What’s the difference between reporting and parroting?

When is an “exclusive” not an “exclusive”? When the story is a direct lift from a local resident’s Twitter feed, and passed off by a local newspaper journalist as a “news story”.

Inside Croydon has witnessed yet another example of the poor journalism that is foisted on the Croydon public, this time from those repeat offenders at the Croydon Guardian.

This salutary tale also demonstrates the power of the hashtag, with journalists now relying on #Croydon on social networks such as Twitter to trawl for local news with as much alacrity as their predecessors would have used police radio scanners decades ago.

The only drawback, in this case at least, is that it seems that that is about all the “work” that the journalist has done before arrogantly, and a little dishonestly if we are to be fair, claiming his 63-word “exclusive”.

This is how local churnalism works…

On Monday afternoon one local Tweeter, Leo Thomas, or @londontownleo as he is known on Twitter, excitedly wrote, all within the required 140 characters:

“Police car chase in #Croydon one hour ago, ending in crash opposite a school. Scary stuff! #London”

By using the device of #Croydon and #London, anyone with a search for those words set up on Twitter would have been alerted to the possibility of the story.

So, at least one Brownie point for intrepid Croydon Guardian reporter Mike Didymus, who was soon messaging his new-found friend Leo via Twitter with the incisive: “Whereabouts?”

Leo Thomas, clearly a helpful sort of bloke, soon clarified the position for one and all with: “Ending on the corner of The Glade and Mardell Road – Opposite Monks Orchard School. I’ll put a pic up in a sec”. And he was as good as his word, providing this image via Twitpics (right).

Didymus was soon back in touch with our on-the-spot observer. “@londontownleo cheers mate – I’m sending a snapper down now, but could we use your pics in the paper? Full credit of course!”

To translate: Didymus had arranged for a photographer (presumably a professional one, who gets paid for his pictures) to attend the scene. You might infer that by saying “I’m sending”, Didymus himself did not intend to attend the source of the news story.

And when Didymus says to Leo, “Could we use your pics in the paper? Full credit of course!”, he’s not actually offering to pay for the lead on the story, or the images taken by this enterprising eye-witness, but only to put their name alongside the photo in the newspaper. Cheap, or what?

It’s a good job the Croydon Guardian is a freebie, because otherwise they might have to refund their readers for posing as a newspaper.

Busy hack Didymus posted his initial report online this evening, all three paragraphs of it (it is entirely possible that another version of his report will be in Thursday’s newspaper). But on this first attempt, you decide whether he managed to get many more details from the local police press officer or any other witnesses than he did from the Tweets of Leo:

Exclusive by Mike Didymus” Exclusive? This must be good then, like they have in the real newspapers… Don’t get your hopes up.

“A police car chase through Croydon ended after a silver car crashed outside a school this afternoon.” OK: well, so far, so familiar. We can see that the car is silver coloured from Leo’s pictures. And Leo has also told us that the chase ended with a crash outside the school.

“Traffic officers appeared to be pursuing the people carrier before it ran into a set of low tree stump bollards outside Monks Orchard School, Shirley at about 1.15pm.” We can also see the bollards in the picture. But “traffic officers appeared to be pursuing”? Appeared to whom? Eye-witnesses? Or a single, Tweeting eye-witness?

“Police are believed to have made three arrests. Nobody appears to have been seriously injured in the crash.” Again, this is rather indistinct. Either the police have, or they haven’t, made arrests. But again, no sources are cited by Didymus, so we readers are left to guess at the reliability of his information.

And that’s it. No more detail. No quotes from eye-witnesses. No calming statement from the school’s headteacher to say that it was well before home time and no children were on the pavement in peril for their lives.

After what can hardly be described as Pulitzer Prize-winning in-depth reporting, Didymus adds what appears to be his standard end par: “Did you see what happened?” Meaning: that he didn’t… “Contact Mike Didymus on 020 8330 9556, or email mdidymus@london.newsquest.co.uk”. That’s it, Mike: sit back and watch those stories fly in to your office.

This is so transparently poor. Journalists depend on their sources for leads, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly rich veins for stories. But we ought to expect our local reporters to extract some additional information for a news story, and not simply parrot what they have read on Twitter.

This post may well get a reaction from the Croydon Guardian, because among Inside Croydon‘s followers of Twitter (@insidecroydon, if you want to tag along) is none other than the CG‘s intrepid reporter, Mike Didymus.

If anyone has seen Mike Didymus produce an original story that was worth reading, then please contact Inside Croydon at insidecroydon@btinternet.com, or Tweet at us with the link @insidecroydon. We promise to keep our loyal reader fully up to date with all developments.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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