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I went along to the Treasury select committee in Portcullis House this afternoon to see five of the country’s best known financial journalists take a mild ruffling from John McFall and the boys. From the crowds milling in the corridor beforehand you could tell it was going to be top rate entertainment, and sitting inside were some newspaper A-listers – Quentin Letts doodling on his shorthand pad and Polly Toynbee bagging a seat near the front.

Simon Jenkins of the Guardian, Alex Brummer of the Daily Mail, Robert Peston of the BBC, Lionel Barber of the FT and Jeff Randall of Sky sat in front of the committee like unrepentant sixth formers. The mood swung back and forth from jocular to snappy. Tory MP Michael Fallon fired the first real salvo when he asked Peston whether he had any sources within the Treasury. Peston’s answer sent a ripple of chuckling through the crowd:

You won’t be surprised that the only area I’m uncomfortable talking about in public is sources of any sort. Over the years I’ve benefited from private conversations with a lot of people, including members of this committee. I’ve talked to you, for example.

Fallon pressed on, asking if Peston had his own pass to the Treasury. “I’m perfectly happy to say I have not got a pass to the Treasury,” Peston replied, adding that if Fallon liked he could ask the Treasury how often he was there, somewhere in the region of twice a year by his guess.

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Among predictable exchanges – did the witnesses feel responsible for precipitating the run on Northern Rock, no they didn’t – Simon Jenkins sounded the most controversial note.

He suggested the government leaked bad news about ailing banks to journalists like Peston before buying up the shares at a cheaper price a few days later.

I think the government has that level of competence. There was a massive interest to the taxpayer to make these shares cheaper. It would be almost weird for the government not to have done it, but how much the journalists involved knew about it I don’t know.

For the record, Peston and others rejected the idea. The talk dwindled as the session wore on, before at the end John McFall cheerily plugged Alex Brummer’s book, Crunched.

According to Financial Times editor Lionel Barber:

 

The imperial status of the mainstream media – the television networks, big metropolitan dailies and lofty commentators – has been shaken. The lay-offs of hundreds of US newspaper journalists this summer are a symptom of a wider malaise.

 

We are witnessing a shift in the balance of power towards new media, with wholesale repercussions for the practice of journalism.

 

Apparently the International Herald Tribune, for decades a source of news for Americans venturing abroad, is folding its web operation into the New York Times site as online news has made its business model redundant.

 

How long before the print version follows suit?