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July 2021

Oh look, all the papers are running the same story, with the same words!

By Tony Attwood

Just how much hard work does our national media put into its reporting?  We have had two occasions recently in which both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian have taken highly speculative tales from Untold and reproduced them as “credible accounts” of what is happening.  Very nice and jolly and a case of opening a bottle of £2.95 plonk for the Untold team chez Attwood, but not really a moment of wild celebrations.  (The wildest were the two occasions when Mr Wenger quoted one of our jokes, but we’ve been there before, so no need for a repeat).

However today we went somewhere else and did something different.  We decided to compare how DIFFERENT journalists in DIFFERENT newspapers covered the same story.

Now the origin of this fascination for me is the fact that way back in the last century I spent part of a game looking at the journalists at a game rather than the match, to see how they colluded over the issue of who was to blame for specific fouls, who scored goals that came out of a melee, exactly what time each goal was scored and so on.  It was a case of shouting a proposal for what “actually happened” up and down the line until everyone concurred through a nodding of the head.  As a result each newspaper published the same thing, and everyone was in agreement.

Of course these days it is different, since every game is filmed, and anything that is controversial can be resolved by slow motion replay.  But even so, consider this…

Ray Wilkins, one time a footballer, and also a pundit on Sky was arrested in May 2012 on a very serious drink driving charge.  He took a couple of tests and they showed him to be three times over the legal limit for alcohol.  The fact that the case has only just come to court is itself utterly appalling, in my personal view.  Indeed the notion that “justice delayed is justice denied” (possibly Gladstone, but maybe not) has not reached out revered fanatical right wing press.  Of course Mr Wilkins is innocent until proven guilty, but the fact that he has been free to drive for over a year is not good IF and I emphasise IF he is guilty.  The papers made nothing of such delay.

That worries me, since I do not believe that in England it normally takes this long to get people into court on matters of such simplicity, but maybe I am being naive.  But I will let that pass and perhaps report on this further since this coming September I shall be appearing in Northampton Crown Court – as a juror.  (The second appearance in my life as a juror – the other being in a major trial at the Old Bailey – but I digress).

Take a look at this piece from The Sun

Wilkins also played for AC Milan and Glasgow Rangers during his 24-year playing career and notched up 84 caps for England.

From the Mail

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Wilkins, who notched up 84 caps for England during his playing days, was questioned at a local police station where he was told he could not make a telephone call to his wife until he supplied two breath samples, his trial heard.

From the Sky Sports web site

Wilkins, who notched up 84 caps for England during his playing days, was questioned at a local police station where he was told he could not make a telephone call to his wife until he supplied two breath samples, his trial heard

It was this similarity in the phrase “notched up” that first struck me.  If I may add, in case English is not your native tongue, or if it is, but you are in a part of the world where “notched up” is not in common use, it means “reached”.  It is a rather archaic phrase, and not one you would hear much in general conversation.  Indeed I can’t recall having heard it for 30 years or more.  And yet all three news outlets use it.  Odd that.

Let’s move on

Daily Mail

The officer – who claimed he did not recognise Wilkins when he stopped the former player – said he handcuffed the pundit who later fell asleep in his unmarked police car.

The officer – who claimed he did not recognise Wilkins when he stopped the former player – said he handcuffed the pundit who later fell asleep in his unmarked police car.

You will, perhaps agree with me that there is a stunning similarity between the Sun’s report and the Mail’s.  And yet surely both the Mail and the Sun – significant papers which both cover the alleged  crime (usually with saliva dripping from the lips of the reporter when it involves an erstwhile star) – use the self-same phrase.  How come????
In this case Sky, employers of Mr Wilkins – make no comment.  Hmmm.
Let’s move on again.
The Daily Mail
Former England and Chelsea footballer Ray Wilkins unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade after he was revealed to be three times over the legal drink-driving limit, a court heard today.

The Sun

ENGLAND football legend Ray Wilkins unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade at cops after they caught him driving while three times over the legal limit, a court heard today.

Former England and Chelsea footballer Ray Wilkins unleashed a foul-mouthed outburst after he was pulled-over by police, a court has heard.
“A court heard today” – apart from the rest of it.  If I had handed in an essay like this at school I would have been beaten up by a sadistic headmaster for copying.
I was going to leave it there, but look what I just spotted in The Independent..
Mr Wilkins also unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade when he was revealed to be three times over the legal drink-driving limit, the court heard.
Now supposing you had been there and were asked to write a report.  What would you have said?  Maybe “He swore like a trooper,” or “he told the officer where to stick it,” – both common expressions.  Not any of this “unleashed a foul-mouthed ” stuff.   The chances of three separate journalists happening on that exact self-same phrase are about 83 trillion to one against on a scale of 1 to 10.
What we have is three (or in the final case four) news outlets all using one reporter to write their copy.  And they are so utterly lazy, demented, bored, and unable to make the long journey out to Staines – a minor town slightly to the west of London, but beyond the M25 and thus beyond the ken of your average journalist that they all either copy each other or use the same source.
Which raises the issue: how often does this happen?  In football, I think it happens all the time.  Of course every newspaper has its own reporter’s name on the rhubarb that they hand in as a supposed commentary on football, by are they actually there watching?
  • The Mail acknowledged that its piece was by By Katie Hodge, Press Association
  • The Sun claimed the self-same phrases were written by By FELIX ALLEN
  • Sky gave no accreditationthe Independent accredited Rob Williams
So just in case you ever fancy the argument that something must be true because it is in “all the papers and on Sky”, just remember, none of them were there in the first place.

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21 comments to Oh look, all the papers are running the same story, with the same words!

  • blacksheep63

    good read Tony. One of my former students, now a history PhD student in Liverpool writes a regular blog about her research into 19th C criminals. Imagine her horror when a few weeks ago she saw her blog repeated word for word in the pages of the Daily Mail and a local Birmingham newspaper without acknowledgment. The papers had taken the story from the Western News agency i believe, the largest such organization in the country. She has stopped blogging lest more of her work is plagiarized.

  • Ryan F

    FYI, The original piece was indeed written by Katie Hodge of the Press Association.

    PA are a Reuters-style news agency who sell completed stories to media outlets. So The Sun, Sky, Independent etc. all buy the same article, and then get their own staff to re-word it – though, as you point out, some similarities remain.

    I take your point that, just because a story is being widely reported, doesn’t give it any extra credence. Indeed, in the current climate of media spin and the scramble to sell papers, one should always digest the press with a healthy degree of scepticism.

    To prove your point, this very lunchtime a tweet by the annoyingly smug “pundit” Guillem Balague (claiming that Man Utd had made a bid for Fabregas) was soon all over the internet, and in some outlets being stated as fact, despite his terrible track record when it comes to transfer gossip.

    PS: Hope you don’t me saying, Mr Attwood, but when I was a kid I really loved your book ‘Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma’, and still have my copy to this day!

  • Adam

    It’s funny you bring this up, on the BBC they have this thing on the TV where they group all the footie gossip, every paper was running the £35 million Suarez story.

    Buy one get ten free?

    The questions people should be asking is; Why is our news standardised?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Just imagine we do not sign Rooney higuain Suarez cesc or Fellaini, we will take a terrible beating from the press and some of their little helpers amongst our fan base. But it’s true, we have no idea who the real targets are. Could be Darren bent and saint scotty parker for all we know

  • Arsenal1Again

    Some people I know have achieved University degrees using the same strategy. I have asked these people questions about their subjects and these copy and pasters rarely convince me they know much about them. It seems the expertise of some sport writers is equally questionable.

  • Dec

    Wrong Mandy, if the Suarez story has any truth, it’ll be Shawcross, Gallas and Barton to follow.
    Suarez?? Suarez?? Somebody please tell me that Arsene’s been captured by aliens and replaced by an evil doppelgänger. Then to add insult to injury, Cesc to ManU??

    I hope the process you highlight Tony, is the real reason for this nonsense.
    The real Arsene knows best (I think!!!)

  • AL

    Gutter journalism. Reminds me of a link Adam once posted here, saying something like how we are supposed to have the world’s worst reporters by Andrew Jennings. A damming verdict that, by one of their own.

    So if I copy and paste one of Tony’s articles and just changed where a few full stops and commas are, does that mean I can take all the credit for the article or report? Didn’t realise it was this easy to become a reporter with one of the top papers in the land. Or I wouldn’t have wasted four years of my life studying whatever it is I studied at uni.

  • para

    “PA are a Reuters-style news agency who sell completed stories to media outlets. So The Sun, Sky, Independent etc. ”
    True true.
    Now do the research where PA and indeed ALL news agencies across the western world get their completed stories from. This includes ALL world news.

  • ARSENAL 13

    The word is ‘Freelance’. These highly paid journalists are too lazy to get out of their comfy cabins.

  • Rupert Cook

    So Tony you wrote Dr.Who books. Have you the tardis to hand, I’d like to travel forward a month and see who we have signed?

  • Ryan F – I can’t believe it – you have not only heard of Earthlink but you’ve read it and you liked it.

    I am floating. There’s one thing you might not know – that book was the origin of the notion of Who spin offs – and since we are talking about copy cat writing, it was my idea, which then became a big industry. But of course there is no copyright on ideas.

    It was fun doing the Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 work. Seems like another century. Oh, it was.

  • Brickfields Gunners


    1. an angular or V -shaped cut, indentation, or slit in an object, surface, or edge.
    2. a cut or nick made in a stick or other object for record, as in keeping a tally.
    3. New England and Upstate New York. a deep, narrow opening or pass between mountains; gap; defile.
    4. Informal. a step, degree, or grade: This camera is a notch better than the other.
    5.Metallurgy . a taphole in a blast furnace: iron notch; cinder notch.

    Just like assasins ,hunters and others who follow no:2 above and make notches on their weapons to boast of their conquests , I had planned to do the same and ‘notch ‘ my …
    errr…. willy /pecker/dick / after every achivement ,but luckly common sense ( as well as a lack of oppertunity )prevailed and it was spared !
    Now many notch themseves with tatoos and studs ….shudder !

  • Rupert, I often awake and think that all the Doctor Who stories have come true, but then realise, no one could ever have written a world as bizarre as the one we now inhabit.

    These days, I prefer to write about Sir Hardly Anyone, a man who, on hearing a passing car would immediately assume it was the postman with a tax bill and reach for his rifle. That seems to be more in keeping with the sort of society we now live in.

  • Rupert Cook

    @Tony, I know what you mean. I loved the Blake’s 7 tv series and the Dr. Who’s with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. It was better when the show was 30 minutes long and in four or six parts rather than these 45 minute shows now which are made for the US market. I only watched the modern ones because Karen Gillan was in them.

    Football news: bizarrely we seemed to have made a 35 million bid for Suarez according to Pool. Bit of a risk in the Diaby mode as Suarez will miss six games and he’s a loaded gun with a hair trigger to match. Can’t fault his ability though but this doubles our transfer record. What you could read into this is that maybe this is Wenger’s last season and like Fergie he wants to make an impact before he leaves. Or maybe having all this money to spend has gone to Wenger’s head. Maybe Pool are making it all up.

  • Patrick Anaekwe

    Good job Tony. Your discoveries about lazy journalists should put to rest lies concerning transfers. This should equally make fans of Arsenal to go into their rest till the end of August when the truth about transfers will surface. Wenger has said it to them that there are secrets about transfers, period.

  • Stuart

    What is also interesting is how the mail and sky sports are the same word for word.

  • Why care about whore-lists ,we are in Vietnam and the fans really love The Arsenal lets enjoy.
    Though let the sewer rats as always utter their sh.. after all we are in a free world, when you are not leaving in Africa.

  • AL

    I have seen match reports previously that were exactly the same in different papers, word for word, but never thought much of it till Tony’s article. Laziness doesn’t even begin to describe this kind of incompetence.

    Thanks for that link again. For those that cant be bothered to read, here is a quote from that link whih is relevant to this discussion;

    “It’s time editors started looking at the garbage that you get from sports news reporters. They are probably the worst in the world… they won’t check, they won’t research and they won’t cultivate the sources that you need to get the documents that reveal what is really going on.

    “If you got all our sports reporters and shot every one that hasn’t acquired any documents they shouldn’t have, you wouldn’t have any sports reporters in London – and I include the BBC sports news reporters in that.”

    Garbage for real. He is the voice of reason.

  • AL

    Hey Kampala, long time. Where have you been? Was starting to worry you had been converted into a spud by the AAA:) Jokes, I know you’d rather die than let that happen, good to hear from you again.

  • Stuart

    That is madness, I’ll check the link when I can get to a pc.