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Press: Podcast dives deep into Christ Church saga

25 November 2022


A PODCAST by the Times journalist Andrew Billen on the Martyn Percy saga, “The Feud”, is very good indeed. Even for someone who has followed the story closely over five years, I found it contained some new revelations.

If you come new to it, or have mercifully forgotten just who did what to whom and how, it’s a very clear retelling of the story — simplified, but picking out the bones of the struggle very clearly.

The podcast phenomenon is a little puzzling to me. It’s easy to understand why newspaper moved on to Twitter: it is a low-cost, high-impact way to do minute-by-minute reports on breaking stories.

It’s less obvious why they should move into podcasts. They are cheap, or they can be: if the format is just two people chewing the fat, as with Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart (“The Rest is Politics”), or Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook (“The Rest is History”). But something like “The Feud” — made by The Times — is as expensive as real deep-diving journalism, because that’s what it is. The series took months to make. The production values are up to BBC standards.

Five half-hour episodes demand a considerable commitment from the listener. But it seems that a younger audience would rather spend half an hour listening to a podcast than simply reading. The average age of Times readers is 62; that of podcast listeners, 27.

The variation of voice and tone that radio makes possible is a help towards mapping complexity and making clear signposts for the reader to follow from one part of the story to the next. Newspapers know how to do this with print layouts, but it’s much harder on screen, and harder still on phone screen.

The Christ Church feud demands that the listener decide who is lying about what and when. When Dr Percy discusses the allegations against him, the voice is very revealing — as is the silence when he is confronted with the evidence that some of the nastiest things posted online about his accuser, Alannah Jeune, were actually written by him.

When Christ Church responds to requests for comments with written statements, the producer reads them out in a voice that makes them sound like Boris Johnson shilling for a cryptocurrency. I laughed out loud at six in the morning when I heard her explain, with every appearance of sincerity, that a small group could never manipulate a large committee like the governing body of the college.

THIS was also the week in which the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) published its rejection of Dr Percy’s complaint against the Daily Telegraph. This related to the interview Ms Jeune gave the paper after he had told another paper that her complaint against him “was all taken out of her hands, heavily weaponised, and then talked up as a full-blown sexual assault” (News, 20 May).

She denied that her complaint was the result of anyone else’s persuasion, telling the Telegraph that his interview “was a case of a man using his power, connections and position to trample down the woman who’s telling the truth”. Dr Percy complained to IPSO, claiming that the piece breached the editor’s code.

IPSO rejected the substance of the complaint completely, though the two parties agreed to an adjustment to a minor inaccuracy.

The happiest result would be for everyone now to move on. But for psychological and political reasons this seems unlikely. The Charity Commission has yet to finish dealing with the Governing Body; Dominic Grieve’s review of the governance of the college has yet to come out (News, 24 June).

MOST journalistic attention this week seems to have been focused on the slow decline of Twitter. No doubt the site will become even more of a fountain of misinformation, mixed real information, over the coming months. That seems to be the price of allowing a diversity of viewpoints without guarantees against bad faith.

MEANWHILE, the trade publication InPublishing ran a fantastic analysis by the veteran journalist Liz Gerard of the Daily Mail’s tergiversations over the summer as it tried to come to terms with the Tory leadership process.

It is lavishly illustrated on the web with front pages which show how the paper was shameless about contradicting itself from week to week, almost from day to day.

The centrepiece was the brief — and one would hope unforgettable — fiasco of the Truss premiership, when the Mail went from “Cometh the hour, cometh the woman” on 6 September, to “At Last! a true Tory budget” on 24 September. Then, on 15 October, when Kwasi Kwarteng was sacked, the lead story was: “Her first 38 days in office have proved some of the most shambolic in British political history. But yesterday — Liz Truss’s 39th day in Downing Street — saw the chaos, confusion and flip-flopping reach extraordinary new extremes.”

The whole thing is worth searching out online. Many people have felt lectured, hectored, and patronised — even lied to — by the Mail over the years. But at least we were not members of the Tory Party.

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