Charlie Brooker, Private Eye, columnist 'jabber' and the green ink brigade

Charlie Brooker has decided to step down from column-writing duties at The Guardian with a parting shot which raises a few interesting questions.

Are editors wrong to give the people formerly known as the 'green ink brigade' free rein to self-publish on newspaper websites?

Is Brooker right to take the decision to stop contributing to the "sheer amount of jabber in the world"?

And why isn't Private Eye better at checking stuff?

Brooker notes that the Eye reported he quit after editor Alan Rusbridger refused his request to switch off reader comments on his articles.

Only the fact he is quitting is true, he says.

Brooker adds that he does dislike online comments and says that even the positive ones are "unsettling", adding: "Who needs to see typed applause accompanying an article? It's just weird. I don't get it."

Right or wrong, Brooker is fighting a losing battle on that one. Good journalism will prompt comment and debate. You either host that on your own website, and reap the benefits in terms of extra traffic, or let someone else do so.

I know Brooker is being flippant when he says:

If a weatherman misreads the national mood and cheerfully sieg-heils on BBC Breakfast at 8.45am, there'll be 86 outraged columns, 95 despairing blogs, half a million wry tweets and a rib-tickling pass-the-parcel Photoshop meme about it circulating by lunchtime. It happens every day. Every day, a billion instantly conjured words on any contemporaneous subject you can think of. Events and noise, events and noise; everything was starting to resemble nothing but events and noise. Firing more words into the middle of all that began to strike me as futile and unnecessary. I started to view myself as yet another factory mindlessly pumping carbon dioxide into a toxic sky.

But he must be one of the very few columnists who can write about pretty much anything they like, so he needn't add to the cacophony of voices giving a view about the subject of the day. 

There may be more comment around than ever before, but there is also less original reporting. Perhaps he could do some of that when he makes a planned fortnightly return to journalism later this year.

I've always been of the view that a journalist's main job is to add to the sum total of human knowledge. While Brooker's disenchantment is understandable, there is nothing to stop him picking up the phone, doing some research or trotting along to a council meeting to find out something new – rather than just adding to the "jabber".

Private Eye is the best selling current affairs magazine in the UK. It only comes out fortnightly. It wouldn't have taken long to pick up the phone to Brooker and/or The Guardian. Because it treads the line between news and satire, I get the impression that it doesn't feel the need to bother with boring things like right-of-reply and denials – but it should.

Damian Thompson of the Telegraph, also reported on the Eye piece adding that Brooker: "is brave only when he’s doing the slagging off; when others are doing it, not so much". (He later added an update including the denial).

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