Critique from across the pond

American journalists need to quit worrying so much about “balanced reporting” and tell readers straight up what happened, said Alec Russell, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for London’s Daily Telegraph in a visit to the U.

Russell was invited to campus as a Hinckley Institute of Politics Fellow from Jan. 21 through 24 and gave several presentations on the differences he has observed between the American and British presses.

“American journalists seem to dance around,” he said. “If Bush did poorly in a debate with Kerry, the British press will say, ‘Bush had a poor debate.'”

The American style sometimes does a disservice to readers by forcing them to read between the lines. If a government or agency responds to a situation by issuing a press release full of lies, it shouldn’t skew the reporting in the name of fairness, he said.

“Objectivity is not the same as balanced reporting,” Russell explained.

British journalists “throttle a story.” They print it as soon as they can with what they have. American journalists are much more careful, which is admirable, but it robs the reader of immediacy and clarity, he said.

After sharing these criticisms, Russell added that he saw commendable qualities in the American system. For example, he said, newspapers in the United States are much more serious than those in Britain. The Daily Telegraph is one of only about four papers in London that take news seriously.

While journalism in Britain is very ad hoc, American students study hard to become journalists and consider it a dignified profession, he said. This allows for more accurate and useful reporting.

Covering Washington is especially hard, he said, because even though there is a steady flow of information, it is difficult to interview sources.

Russell’s position gives him a unique perspective on British relations with Washington, he told a crowded Hinckley Caucus room on Tuesday morning.

Tagging along on meetings between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russell noticed that Blair is able to get invaluable face time with Washington politicians but has little influence on them.

Nancy Nazarinia, a junior in communication, heard Russell in her media ethics course.

“He gave an interesting perspective,” she said. “He has a global perspective, not just a London or an English one. He was very candid.”

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