More on the Daily Mail and my comments about their 'suicidal five year olds' article

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 5 September 2008

If you are interested in newspapers, the Internet and blogging, you can't have missed the growing blogstorm around the Daily Mail, following an article by Julie Moult that was rather ill-informed about the web. I don't need to pick over the bones of the story itself, as it has been covered in plenty of other places, but I did want to pass comment because my name has been mentioned a couple of times in the course of it.

Julie Moult

The piece on Bloggerheads was complaining not just about the original story, but the way that the Mail had handled some gentle criticism submitted via the comments form - by not publishing them. It cited my blog post from February last year about the Mail twisting my words, and deleting criticism of a story that I had sent to them.

The story in question concerned a survey by Childline, which the Mail covered by claiming that 'suicidal five year olds' had been calling the children's charity.

Suicidal Daily Mail headline

The only evidence to support this was that out of 1,265+ calls concerning suicide, 42 of them had been made by children who said they were between the ages of 5 and 12.

Childline suicidal phone call figures

When I pointed this out on the Mail site, they truncated my submission, to remove criticism of the way they had interpreted the statistics.

Original comment

Someone visiting currybetdotnet, after seeing the link on Bloggerheads noticed that subsequently the Mail has changed the text back to my original full submission. Here is a picture of how the comment appeared on the Mail's site yesterday.

Changed comment on the Daily Mail

It isn't in the same place it used to be either. As you can see from the screen captures, there used to be comments from David Birt and Emma Prescott either side of it. Currently it appears as the one of the last three submitted, next to a comment from Portia. The timestamp displayed - 28/2/2007 13:29 - is a day after my original complaint was posted on currybetdotnet.

My post timestamped February 27th

I've no idea whether that was when the comment was actually re-edited. Perhaps it was done at the same time that they changed the online headline from "Suicidal five-year-olds calling helpline" to "Suicide generation: five-year-olds calling helpline"

The Mail's suicide generation

The article says it was updated at 11:17 on the 13th March 2007, and has a new URL following the Daily Mail's online redesign earlier this year.

I thought, whilst we were on the subject, it was worth reminding people how very differently The Telegraph handled a similar situation. A posting of mine on The Telegraph's blogs was edited and truncated, taking out a tongue-in-cheek opening sentence and rendering the rest of it meaningless. So, I blogged about it. Within an hour of my posting on currybetdotnet, The Telegraph had restored the original comment, I'd had an email from a senior member of staff there apologising, and Marcus Warren went on to blog about the incident on The Telegraph's own site. So much better for all concerned.

The whole Julie Moult fiasco came about because the Mail won't publish much in the way of criticism of itself in comments, even when their reporting is clearly at fault. On the Internet, that kind of manipulation of content and demonstrable lack of transparency and accountability is easy for the blogosphere to keep track of. And it looks like they are going to.

1 Comment

Martin - the text in the box above the ages says "Calls where age given." There is some ambiguity there, in that you might expect '5' to be the base where at least one child has called of that age.

However the interpretation and headline are misleading, since the 'real story' is that Childline gets less than a twentieth of its calls from under-12's...

Or maybe I'm wrong...

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