All the news

In a previous blog I made some comments about the reliability of reporting in the MSM. I was therefore interested to see a review of the book Flat Earth News, by reporter Nick Davies who takes British journalism to task. (Apparently the book is not available in North America as searches on Amazon and Chapter/Indigo turned up no hits).

The reviewer notes:

Davies’s book gives cynical hacks cause to think. It is written by an insider who really does know what goes on inside newsrooms. It captures truths about what happens when principles are corrupted and reporters forced to do too much, too fast.

But it is not perfect. Davies admits that. He is a reporter and reporters have always made mistakes. What offends him is the frequency with which today’s reporters are encouraged not to care about accuracy, objectivity and the “fourth estate” values which have allowed journalists to swaddle ourselves in the certainty that our work serves the purposes of democracy.

Davies believes “we are deep into a third age of falsehood and distortion in which the primary obstacles to truth-telling lie inside the newsrooms”.

At the root of the problem lies commercial pressure, but not the ideological pressure blamed by Marxist academics anxious to portray the press as an establishment conspiracy. Davies blames the more insidious influence of media conglomerates that prefer profit to political influence and pare editorial staff to the bone to achieve it.

This leads overburdened reporters to fill the pages of their newspapers with “Flat Earth News”, a worthless commodity defined here as an unreliable statement or story “created by outsiders, usually for their own commercial or political benefit, injected via a wire agency into the arteries of the media through which it then circulates around the whole body of global communication”.

The information is not checked. Reporters, raised on the legend of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, have abandoned their obligation to check that what they are writing is true. Being a veteran to whom facts matter, Davies cites numerous examples.

This is no different than what we see in newspapers in North America. It is not uncommon to see a story that is simply a slight rewrite of a press release from some advocacy group, with a brief quote from some other group in opposition at the end of the piece in an attempt to bring some appearance of balance to the story.

But then sometimes I think it may simply boil down to reporters who just hate to let facts get in the way of a good story, aided and abetted by readers who could care less about facts as long as the story slants toward their personal point of view.

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