Inside Story

by Philip Webster

Rating: ★★

Webster's weird memoir-thing was actually very dull.

Part of this was that the events Webster covers are for the most part very removed from anything I care about. The picture he paints of political journalism is a world wherein reporters focus entirely on a narrative of prominent personalities clashing and spatting and generally being toxic, with at best a backdrop of policy and ideology.

More than that, he demonstrates through reminiscence how blatantly pathetic the reporters are: rushing off from a press-conference to report on a minor variant of a campaign speech; letting themselves be used as pawns in PR campaigns; salivating wildly over inconsequential stories about the private lives of ministers. Political reporters seem to deal almost entirely in statements given to them from politicians or highlighted out of reports, and this lack of original research lends their work a very superficial character.

However, not all of the blame for the book's vapidity can be laid at the feet of its content. Certain episodes that Webster covers could easily have been regarded as interesting, even gripping, if he had bothered to put any amount of effort into the writing.

To be sure, Webster has a command of the journalistic clarity you commonly expect to find in newspapers and long for in technical reports. But either his talent stops precisely there, or he never cared to exercise it more. Each of the stories he delivers is achingly underdeveloped, with a severe lack of context (damaged even more by the spotty chronological order) followed by a long series of 'this happened, then this happened', with no real attempt to explain causes or significance. Whenever he allows himself a comment, aside or piece of flavour, he immediately punishes the reader by underlining it with an exclamation point, or insisting rather defensively that a joke was a joke.

With such a drab style, and stale, superficial content, I found little to salvage from the book. Webster most closely approaches interesting when he talks about the shifting mechanics and practices of Lobby journalism, a topic he would have been in a good position to comment on more thoroughly. Sadly, this thread was only sparsely explored, and rather than capping his history with his report to the Levenson Inquiry, we instead get a bewildering list of name+opinion snippets, highlighting yet again that to him, the story's all about the cast.

Hopefully, this will be the worst book I read all year.