I was umming and ahhing about whether I should do this post, as the Guardian has probably had enough of a kicking in the last few hours, but in the end I decided to.

In case you’ve missed all the fun, during the afternoon, the Guardian’s sports editor (well, he was until today…) Ian Prior, tweeted that his paper would release a “major exclusive” at 5:30pm.

Cue meltdown on all the social networks, blogs and messageboards you can think of. Prior’s follower count on Twitter rocketed as people waited for the news. He himself reassured BBC Sport’s lead writer Phil McNulty that the story would be worth waiting for.

It wasn’t.

For whatever reason, the Guardian had decided to dress up a nothing bit of fluff about Inter Milan possibly offering £40m for Gareth Bale – speculation at best which had been suggested in the wake of his two tremendous displays against the club earlier in the season. Not even now – in the summer. It would barely warrant a line in the Rumour Mill daily column or the BBC’s own gathering of transfer rumours had it been another publication, but the Guardian had splashed on it big time.

As pointed out by a former classmate of mine Scott Goodacre, the story does not even have any quotes. There is no indication where it has come from. On day one of journalism school, we were told that if you don’t have a quote you don’t have a story. For some reason, this most basic of basic ‘must-dos’ doesn’t apply to the Guardian, which is probably the most respected newspaper in the country. Well. It was. Until today.

Even worse, it took just a couple of hours for the Telegraph to do some *actual* journalism and show the story up to be utterly, completely, devastatingly wrong, with quotes and everything. Not only was it not a story, it was a false not a story. Are you with me?

The Guardian would probably have gotten away with it had Prior not trumpeted its arrival as if it was going to be something jaw-dropping. As it was, he built up the hype and in all fairness, no story was going to ever live up to it. Even if it was a good one. That was true. Which it wasn’t. On either count.

Presumably, the blame has to lie at Prior’s door. As the editor of the sport section he should have spiked the article unless the writer, David Hynter, could produce a source. And if he could – why was the source not in the article? God knows what he was thinking but Prior then tootled along to Twitter and make a complete arse of himself in front of the entire internet.

He has grovelled and appears to be taking the abuse in good humour, but will anybody take him seriously now? Next time the Guardian has a big story and Prior announces its impending arrival on Twitter, he will get laughed out of town. Twitter has the memory of an elephant.

It took just seconds for the gags to start coming and they are still flowing on the #guardianexclusive hashtag, while various users made up their own banal revelations with tags such as #jambothejournoexclusive (my own lame effort – not worth linking to it).

Not only that, but the Guardian has taken a huge hit to its credibility. This is not the kind of stunt it usually pulls and that is what it was, a stunt, it must have been. There is simply no way the journalist and the editor could have both thought it warranted an “exclusive” splash. This was to chase hits, in the wake of the news MailOnline has crashed through the three million daily users mark for the first time. Guardian readers expect better. The comments on the article are full of “is this it?” and you can understand why. If you give a story that kind of billing, it has to make a splash. This one did, but for all the wrong reasons.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the paper. It is currently flying high due to its excellent and unparalleled coverage of Wikileaks, Palestine/Israel and the phone-hacking issue.

But there’s already been stick for tentpole sports writer Paul Hayward, who despite a reputation as one of the best in the business, has been churning out increasingly reactionary guff in the vein of Richard Williams, with the famously brutal “under-the-line” residents tearing him to pieces for it.

It’s a bad day for the Guardian’s sports pages. But a little part of me, the bit that knows how brilliant the newspaper is, is still hoping this is an elaborate hoax and the print edition will deliver a mind-blowing story in the morning.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Advertisements