Look. No one else is going to say this, so we’ll say it. The implosion of Northern Rock has unleashed a comical claim-game amongst media types, desperate to bag the title of “Business Scoop of the Year.” But it had gotten downright silly by 22.09 on Tuesday evening with Huw Edwards, presenting the BBC’s flagship Ten O’Clock News, informing eager readers not once BUT THREE TIMES that business editor Robert Peston had broken news of the grave situation – on the flagship Ten O’Clock News, no less, last Thursday.
Huw, clearly fired up by the situation and, Huw knows, maybe a customer of the bank himself, helpfully steered viewers seeking “further information on Northern Wreck” towards more details on the BBC’s excellent state-funded website (a capital gaff in broadcast land, unlike FT Alphaville, which is not under the same stringent Ofcom code. Yet.)
But anyway, who did get the scoop?
Here’s what actually happened. Last Thursday, after days of losses, shares in Northern Rock came under particular pressure. This was accompanied by stock market rumours that the bank was pursuing some sort of emergency funding. This was widely reported at the time, in intra-day web reports.
That evening the Bank of England decided a bail out was necessary. According to people familiar with the situation (blah, blah), Peston of the BBC was the first journalist to call the authorities (Treasury, FSA, BoE) and inform them that he knew a rescue had been agreed and that he intended to publish the fact.
Peston duly delivered his “scoop” during last Thursday’s News at 10, while this story was posted on the Corporation’s website at 10.03.
Trouble is that the “authorities,” knowing the story was coming out on the TV and mindful of print media deadlines, put in calls to the banking correspondents at major British newspapers. They even called the FT. And, new media being surprisingly quick media when a real story is involved, various outlets got their “snaps” out in pixel form before the BBC actually distributed its alleged scoop.
The point here? Well, such gong-grabbing amongst the media is an unseemly affair, especially when the public clearly have substantial concerns over the safety of their assets.
And, in media if not money-terms, it’s also fraudulent. Anyone following the affair in detail will know that FT Alphaville initially blew the whistle on June 27, when the c-Rock-ed state of affairs was first exposed.
With the problem identified, the facts were first revisited – and built upon – on the 28th of that month, and then on the 29th, followed by coverage on July 9. After a much-deserved mid-summer break, the team returned to the matter on August 20, and then again on the fifth of September, and on the sixth, and on the seventh, and then again on the twelfth, and indeed on that fateful thirteenth before the inevitable happened.
Do we seek special commendation? Of course! And, just to put Hugh at rest, he was right first time – it’s a wreck, not Rock.