Yesterday’s session with former UK government advisor Dominic Cummingsbefore a seven-hour joint session of the Commons Heath, and Science and Technology committees dominated my Twitter feed, many of my podcasts and, if I was to be honest, a significant chunk of my own attention.
Lurking in the background, but easily forgotten in the rush to cover and discuss the big UK politics story of the day, was that they were looking into how government made decisions that had consequences for the lives of everyone in the country. And, more to the point, that they were failing to make decisions in a way that quite possibly cost thousands of lives.
It wasn’t just today’s story. It was something that was unpicking a period of time that had profound consequences for many.
Those of us who got Covid bad aren’t watching this stuff with Cummings as if it’s a Westminster soap opera. This is why we nearly died and thousands more did.
But pieces like these are still the exception, not the rule. Good journalism often requires walking a fine line between detaching yourself from the story enough to write it objectively, while also keeping in mind that we’re talking about people with real lives and relationships. Often, those poor decisions we make when we stray onto the wrong side of the line stick in people’s minds for years afterwards, eroding trust in what we do.
Earlier in the week, I had an optician appointment. She asked me what I did — and when I talked about my work, she rapidly brought the subject around to Milly Dowler and the alleged hacking of her phone. That’s a story about a (still unproven) offensively bad journalistic decision that’s nearly two decades old, and yet resonates with people today. Yes, The Guardian corrected that story, but nobody remembers that part (myself included, in fact —…