Defending the vast majority of journalists and journalism means acknowledging that some of what our trade does is unacceptable

There are 80,000 of us in the UK.

That’s more than twice the population of, oh, I don’t know, let’s pluck a totally random and royally irrelevant place out of the sky….Windsor.

Journalists are all different.

We do different things, cover different stories, have different relationships with impartiality, and different relationships with accountability.

And yet there is an organisation that seeks to speak up for us all.

It’s one that has been a wonderful defender of the freedom of the press, a supporter of the regulator IPSO, a campaigner for better access to the courts, a fighter for freedom of information, and a passionate critic of those who seek to muzzle investigative journalism.

I’ve never quite got round to joining the Society of Editors, but I have long admired its work.

Until this week, that is.

Because in the last couple of days that passionate critic role has gone into an outrageous overdrive.

It’s done a great job in bringing together all those disparate groups of journalists – in condemnation of its actions.

As Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance updated MPs on the best way to beat covid, dozens of us were doing our own social distancing from a blunderbuss, tone deaf statement put out by the SoE in response to Meghan and Harry’s sit down with Oprah Winfrey.

That interview was packed with criticism of the British media, and particularly its barely-disguised hostility to the Duchess of Sussex and even more barely-disguised hostility to immigrants.

That way in which elements of the national media can pander to the lowest common denominators in our society in a corrosive and damaging fashion is a phenomenon that can be seen from space.

Everyone knows it happens. Few of us look it in the eye and challenge it.

Before the SoE issued a statement denying that the British media was bigoted and racist, plenty of journalists – particularly those in the regional sector – had already begun that distancing process.

‘Don’t tar us all with the same brush,’ was a common theme on Twitter.

The reporting – and particularly the commentators and headlines – that can be seen in the Mail and Telegraph is a world away from the whites-of-their-eyes journalism practised by tens of thousands of responsible writers and broadcasters. People who live with the consequences of their journalism, because they live in the communities they write or broadcast about.

But that indignant statement – bristling with bruised pride and confected anguish – provoked a whole new set of ‘not in my name’ clarifications from journalists from across the spectrum.

And confirmation of the society’s inability to read the room came a day later when its executive director Ian Murray endured a car crash interview with Victoria Derbyshire.

This was a whole new orchestra of tone-deafness.

A white middle-aged man shouting at a woman questioning him about the racist bullying of another woman.

He might have thought he was defending journalism.

But that interview – like the statement before it – has done a disservice to our profession and the majority of the people in it.

That penny now seems to be dropping, with a hard-hitting letter to the SoE from senior journalists of colour, and some internal soul-searching among the society’s board.

Defending the vast majority of journalists and journalism means acknowledging that some of what our trade does is unacceptable.

The SoE should be driving up standards, with a new tide of ethical journalism that lifts all the boats, and makes it impossible for anyone to keep dredging the depths.

Otherwise the very best of journalism in this country will forever be tarnished by the very worst.

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