Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. MPs must not decide what goes in the papers (Times) (£)

The public mood is for a press law. But that mood will blow over and we will look foolish if we give into it, says Matthew Parris.

2. You're not a tourist, Obama. Go to Israel with a message (Guardian)

As Netanyahu unveils his new government, the US president should echo Israel's former security chiefs: the occupation must end, says Jonathan Freedland. 

3. Nigel Farage: beware Ukip's smiling assassin (Daily Telegraph)

The Ukip leader Nigel Farage his party of 'cranks and gadflies’ have become a clear and present danger to David Cameron and the Conservative Party, writes Judith Woods.

4. The Leveson dispute could destroy our free press (Independent)

One of the principles that made me want to be a journalist in the first place and to help produce a newspaper such as this one, is at stake, says Chris Blackhurst.

5. Osborne and Cameron must cut further (FT) (£)

The choice is pain now or prolonged agony later, writes Terry Leahy.

6. Royalists make the lives of the royal family a misery (Guardian)

The monarchy locks people in a gilded cage and denies them the most basic freedom of all – the freedom to be themselves, writes Deborah Orr.

7. Charities must clean up their act if they want us to dig deep (Daily Telegraph)

Surveys show that people will donate more when they understand the purpose of the donation, so maybe charities should stop trying to function as political groups, argues Graeme Archer.

8. How to protect individuals and press freedom (Times) (£)

Our Royal Charter-plus will ensure robust self-regulation while winning cross-party support, writes Nick Clegg.

9. David Cameron's court rounds on Theresa May (Daily Express)

Every prime minister has a court, rather in the style of a Tudor monarch, says Patrick O'Flynn.

10. The new Pope promises a new approach in the Catholic Church - but will this extend to Twitter? (Independent)

Perhaps it's time for @pontifex to loosen up and add Piers Morgan, says Simon Kelner.

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Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.