Richard Ault: ‘Important to be balanced when reporting the news’ – Richard Ault



A long time ago, my very first editor sat me down to look over a report I had written for his newspaper, and mercilessly tore it to shreds.

The story in question was about fox hunting and followed a trip I had made, at the invitation of the League Against Cruel Sports, to see a hunt in action across the Cheshire countryside.

The then editor of the Crewe Chronicle, Colin Roberts called me into his office at the end of the day and spent quite a long time explaining why the article I submitted was complete trash and needed to be entirely rewritten.

In later weeks and months I would get used to hearing him shout ‘Rich, ****ing get in here!’, almost the second I arrived at work to dress me down for a spelling mistake or slip-up.

I recall particularly choice language in a ticking off he dished out after spotting I had accidentally replaced the word ‘of’ with the word ‘or’.

That meant an entertainment story about a medium who wanted his audience to bring pictures of loved ones who had passed away almost became a request to ‘bring photographs or a deceased relative’.

But on that first occasion he was calm and constructive with his criticism. Perhaps because he wasn’t actually paying me any wages at that time – I worked for nothing for my first three months in journalism.

More importantly, he was absolutely right. I was very much in favour of banning fox hunting, which was still legal at the time, and the article I wrote was essentially a biased rant, crammed full of my opinions.

Colin went through every word with me, and by the time he was done it was completely transformed into a balanced news story.

For the record, it was about an incident which occurred when a pack of hounds were directed onto a railway line in pursuit of the fox – causing two dogs to be killed by an oncoming train.

I’ve never forgotten the lesson Colin taught me that day. It’s my job, when I write an article of news, to present the facts as well as I can and let people make up their own minds – not tell them what to think.

We hear a lot of talk now on social media about bias in the ‘MSM’.

Some of it is fair. Most of the national newspapers have a particular slant which colours the way stories will be written. The Guardian is going to present a news article in a completely different way to the Daily Mail.

But a lot of it isn’t.

For example, journalists have been accused of bias simply for asking difficult questions of the Government during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government of the day necessarily faces far more scrutiny than the opposition, and as a result receives more negative press.

It’s entirely right that it does. Governments hold power, not opposition parties, and probably the most important job of the press is to hold power to account.

Footballer Marcus Rashford showed exactly what can be achieved when power is held to account this week, when his eloquent and intelligent argument forced a U-turn on free school meals.

The next Government will face more scrutiny than the opposition, regardless of its colour, and so will the one after that. That’s how things should be in a democracy.

Opinions have become so entrenched in 2020 that some have lost sight of that.

Politics should not be like football, where you pick a team and support it through thick and thin, taking any criticism it receives personally.

I’ve always remembered what Colin taught me. I believe in fairness and I try to treat everyone I interview in the same way, regardless of any impressions I may have before meeting them.

In fact, it still feels strange to write an opinion column, which is completely different to writing news. When I write news, I strive for balance and try to keep my opinion out of it. In an opinion column, you are expected to pick a side of an argument.

I learned recently that Colin had died suddenly at home. I wasn’t able to go to his funeral because of the coronavirus restrictions, but I hope I will be able to attend a memorial in his honour in the future.

He was a great guy and I liked him immensely. He taught me a lot, and I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me my first real chance in journalism.

But I think his most important lesson was the very first one he taught me, of the importance of balance – at least when reporting the news.





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