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Peter McKay’s walk down the street of shame

Hilary Term's Second Week seminar (January 23rd) was a sensational affair, with the Daily Mail's colourful Peter McKay speaking on popular journalism ("Peter McKay's walk down the street of shame"). McKay told the story of covering many years ago the homecoming of a 'lost' trawler in Aberdeen; a big story because everyone thought the crew had perished but, badly damaged, the boat had taken shelter until a North Sea storm died down. They sailed home without knowing there had been a fuss about them. McKay said he'd asked the skipper to take the boat out of the harbour and sail it back in so that he could get good 'Ghost ship sails in' pictures instead of boring shots of it tied up. Being an idealistic young lad, he told his audience that he wondered if this artifice was ethical and decided that it was. Some in the audience said that their papers would never countenance such a deception.

"Most news has been devised," McKay said. He explained that the structure of a story had been decided ahead of time and the journalist then sets out to assemble the elements that make the finished product possible. Newspapering is a business," he said. It's "absolutely wrong," he said, to think that newspapers have any sort of duty to society. McKay added, "If the public are interested, it's in the public's interest."