Today
Thu 29 July 2021

Journalism is not about the fictions people want to hear, but the inconvenient facts that they may want to ignore or may be hard to tell

“To rethink continuously the business of storytelling”. That is the motto that welcomes visitors in the highly-patrolled reception lobby to Rupert Murdoch’s News UK headquarters at London Bridge.

I managed (covertly) to snatch a shot of it six years ago as I accompanied Alastair Morgan, who was delivering a letter to Murdoch, begging him to cooperate with the independent panel inquiry into the 1987 unsolved murder of his brother, Daniel Morgan, whose detective agency became – after his death (in the words of the final panel report, published this week) – a “hub of corruption”, in league with the shuttered Sunday tabloid, the News of the World.

The Prime Minister has recently been described as a master storyteller in a highly literary piece in the Atlantic. But it’s not hard to come up with compelling and dramatic narratives if all you want to do is create compelling and dramatic narratives. Boris Johnson’s career has exemplified this: from his firing from The Times newspaper for lying, through to his Vote Leave campaign claims promising £350 million a week for the NHS, and his handling of Britain’s “world-beating” Coronavirus response. 

Journalism is not about the fictions people want to hear, but the inconvenient facts that they may want to ignore or may be hard to tell. Meeting Alastair 10 years ago was the moment that persuaded me I should move on from my previous career dominated by drama and fiction, and into those untold, true stories. Working with him on the Untold Murder podcast and subsequently co-authoring the book Who Killed Daniel Morgan? further convinced me that there were enough comforting fictions in the world, but not enough telling of the truth.

This principle has been at the heart of Byline Times since its inception. All of us at the newspaper work hard to make our stories accessible and vivid, but also never to let the striking phrase or dramatic posture overshadow or get in the way of what is happening. We try to be a window onto the world, rather than a mirror to reflect back our own prejudices. 

The way we want to do that is not through contrarian argument or Oxford Union-style debates, but by letting the facts speak for themselves – to shed more light than heat.

That’s not easy with the complex scandals, conspiracies and conflicts of interests when it comes to Government cronyism over contracts, disinformation campaigns on COVID-19, dark money networks, or the current gold rush around healthcare data. We try our best. But these issues are deliberately made cryptic and opaque by those who benefit from them. It’s an arms race exposing a scandal before the malefactors catch on and upgrade their techniques. 

But it’s not all complexity and darkness. Sometimes, the simplest thing is to step back and let people tell their own story – something I first learned by talking to Alastair and his family. The story was almost impossibly convoluted, but the Morgan family’s persistence and honesty was like a golden thread through the labyrinth. 

We try to follow this principle at the heart of what we do at Byline Times, by commissioning reporters and writers – no matter their experience in journalism – to share their personal experiences or professional expertise. We feel that too few people in this country actually have a platform – and so too few of the urgent stories that should occupy us today are being told.

That’s how we aim to be your newspaper: not just by recording what the papers don’t say; not just by being funded and financially supported by you; but by listening to your experiences, observations and concerns. Many of our exclusives and most powerful pieces come from you. 

In this spirit, we have dedicated the June print edition of Byline Times to Alastair Morgan, Kirsteen Knight and the family of Daniel Morgan as an inspiration to all of us. Even if it takes 34 years, you can bring truth to light and get some justice. Even if you have no platform, we can help you build one.  

Peter Jukes is an Executive Editor of Byline Times

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