Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Both Tories and Labour need to bridge the north-south divide (Observer)

The party leaders must find a way to heal this geographical schism if they ever want to claim a national mandate, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. We’ve added a vanload of shame to the silence on immigration (Sunday Times) (£)

Indira Knight against the nasty bilboards driven around London last week: "In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST."

3. Written off – but John Kerry is defying the defeatists (Independent)

World View: The fledgling US Secretary of State's surprising progress towards Israeli-Palestinian talks has made him a hero... for now at least, says Alistair Dawber.

4. Ubran Apartheid in Vietnam (IHT)

Vietnam is one of the few countries in the world whose citizens must live where they’re registered or ask the government’s permission to relocate, by Lien Hoang.

5. For Ed Miliband and the Labour Party it’s back to 1982 all over again (Telegraph)

Everything that Tony Blair accomplished by way of bringing the party into touch with modern Britain is being undone before our eyes, writes Janet Daley.

6. The Arab spring is being stifled by the force of arms (Observer)

Middle East: there is no clear condemnation from the international community of political change delivered at gunpoint, writes Nabila Ramdani.

7. O Lord, make us ethically pure — but not yet (Sunday Times) (£)

Rod Liddle on Welby's Wonga wobble.

8. The cult of home ownership is dangerous and damaging (Financial Times) (£)

The US and UK should ditch their obsessions with residential property, writes Adam Posen.

9. This has been a good week to be a republican (Independent)

You wouldn't know it from the deference of the royal baby coverage, but a poll this month showed more than half of us weren't bothered, writes Joan Smith.

10. Bank notes need more women (Observer)

Jane Austen will be gracing a tenner. But what about all those other famous females? asks Victoria Coren.

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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.