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Author Topic: Flat Earth News
Hieronymus Bosch
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All this week I've been reading Nick Davies' long-awaited expose of the scumminess and sharp practices infesting British newsrooms. It's good stuff -- the sourcing isn't always impeccable, he sometimes relies too heavily on unattributed gossip, but that was an inevitable consequence of the people he talked to being afraid of losing their jobs.

I said in my review that it was a pity Davies felt the need to get personal in his descriptions of certain hacks, but that was just a high-minded sop to our prissy middle-class readers -- it's great to see him sticking the boot into mendacious cunts like David Leppard and Kamal "I'm friends with Alastair Campbell, you know" Ahmed.

It's piss-funny in parts, too. There's an extremely amusing account of Andrew Neil tearing off his jacket and sweatily getting down to the Flashdance soundtrack at a party some time in the 1980s, and an hilarious story about Ciaran Byrne of the Sunday Times being asked to infiltrate a group of militant lesbians.

But most of it is pretty depressing. He goes on a lot about hacks being ordered to do more stories in less time -- "churnalism" is the name he gives to this practice. Near the beginning there is a diary kept by a young journo on a regional paper. The kid's workload is insanely heavy and totally disheartening.

Not perfect, but recommended reading for anybody interested in examining the direction that the British press is currently lurching in.

[ 19.02.2008, 23:14: Message edited by: Lt. Frank Drebin ]

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mafu
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john lanchester's review in the LRB:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n05/lanc01_.html

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wingco
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I just finished reading this myself and would echo what Hieronymous says. Essentially, he says that the problem with UK journalism isn't so much newspaper owners like Murdoch bending editorial according to their own, right wing political agendas, although that happens - it's more that, since corporatations have taken over news operations, they've cut away at traditional networks of journalism, leaving them with less time and more vulnerable to the misinformation, deliberate of otherwise, of PA or PR sources.

It's interesting to read the slag-offs the book received in both The Times and The Observer by Aarnovitch and Peter Preston respectively, and how they evade the main charges levelled against their papers by Davies.

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E10Rifle
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Yeah from what I've read of it so far, I very much like the central point that blaming newspaper bias on individual Nasty Proprietors, controlling the agenda in a "The Man" stylee, is to miss the point. It's the drip-drip effect of a commercialised culture that routinely demands 25-30 per cent profit margins that is behind a lot of the decline of serious news.

We've been saying this sort of stuff in the union for years, of course, but it's good for a high-profile book to be getting this message out too (and Davies is a good member, running some of our investigative reporting training courses too).

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Hieronymus Bosch
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Aaronovitch seems to be annoyed that Davies didn't consult him when was putting together the chapter about the Observer and Iraq.

quote:
Expressing extreme disquiet that “this flagship of the Left was towed along in the wake of a determinedly right-wing American Government”, Davies ascribes the newspaper's stance as being due to the absorption of misinformation from the intelligence services, a political naivete on the part of an easily flattered editor, and careerism on behalf of the political editor.

Whoever else he spoke to on The Observer who was there at the time, Davies didn't speak to me. Nor, I think, did he make the short journey up the stairs from The Guardian (for which he normally writes) to the offices of its Sunday stablemate. If he had done either, his attention might have been drawn to a photograph and a flower. They commemorated The Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft who, in 1990, was executed by Saddam Hussein, by way of a bloody two-fingered salute to Margaret Thatcher. The next Sunday The Observer carried an impassioned editorial on the consequences of appeasing dictators.

The paper's stance on removing Saddam was an absolutely natural continuation of that argument. But in the meantime it was Davies and company who had changed enough to feel stupefaction that anyone could think that ol' Saddam was worse than George Bush.


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E10Rifle
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quote:
Whoever else he spoke to on The Observer who was there at the time, Davies didn't speak to me. Nor, I think, did he make the short journey up the stairs from The Guardian (for which he normally writes) to the offices of its Sunday stablemate
Heaven forbid that he didn't bother to speak to a one-article-a-week columnist who didn't work from the office. Christ, what a conceited prick.

Interesting, too, that Aaranovitch didn't himself, in the course of compiling his review, try to find out whether or not Davies had spoken to people at the Observer and the Guardian, merely using the expression "I think". How about finding out, Dave? It's called journalism. This is the sort of stuff that a work-experience student on a local paper would have tried to do, but hey Dave, don't let us tell you how you should do your job.

Interestingly, I may (shift times permitting) have the opportunity soon to be at a social event at which Aaranovitch is speaking. I'll report back.

[ 03.03.2008, 00:18: Message edited by: E10Rifle ]

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Ginger Yellow
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Also, given that the subject of Davies's book is how commercial pressures are making reporting more difficult and less serious, he probably wanted to speak to, you know, reporters.
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E10Rifle
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Interview with Davies here, including the surprising revelation that he's pro-war.
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