The Osborne Express

WHAT fun down at Euston last night. I’m not sure how big the story really was, but what fun. There was George Osborne on a train steaming into town in the middle of a row over whether he had the right ticket for first class. Journalists rushed to meet him. He snuck out on Euston’s equivalent to Platform 9 3/4.

The big media comment afterwards was the usual stuff about how social media had broken a story in the middle of a train journey through tweets from Granada TV journalist Rachel Townsend and it had moved onto news websites, GONE EVERYWHERE, before Osborne had even got to London. All true, but the whole affair did highlight another fault line on how journalism works.

Again, you can question how big a deal the whole story was, but it did capture the attention of all the important political journalists, it made it onto Newsnight and it fed into the ‘them and us’ debate about Tory ministers. Yet it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if – and there is no disrespect meant  to Rachel Townsend because I think it’s great she tweeted what she tweeted – if one of the well-recognised, important political journalists who rely on access to government briefings and advanced looks at upcoming policies had been on the train with Osborne. Would they have rushed to their smartphone and told us what was happening to the Chancellor on the train so quickly?

It is easy to imagine a few of them going no further than ribbing Osborne a little bit across the gangway, but doing nothing more. Truth is, the story came from a reporter who doesn’t have to worry about being invited into the next government sit-down with the press.

And the beauty of the story coming from Rachel Townsend’s tweets for the big newspaper correspondents and columnists is that they can then go for their lives with it. They have free rein, as when they next see Osborne, they can tell him: ‘You know how it is George. Everybody was covering it, we couldn’t just ignore it’. Let Rachel get the angry ‘remember that reporter’ note in Osborne’s files, save your access and your one to one interviews during conference season, but still join in on the story.

You can trundle back through similar episodes, gaffes that blow up for a three hour news blast, and you will often see the original story goes back to an irritating local journalist or a blogger upsetting the usual to and fro. It might even come from a tweet from a passer-by.  My hunch is – and hey, we’ve all got to pay the bills – is that some, not all, but some of our most respected commentators would have seen Osborne pay his upgrade fare, possibly given him a smile and joke, and then gone back to their seats and their stories about cats fighting in Downing Street.

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