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Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter…
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Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion…

by Nick Davies

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This book really opened my eyes to the world of 'churnalism' and the lengths that some newspapers and journalists will go to, to get that scoop. It was particularly timely during the investigations into phone hacking which are currently going on too. Davies cites example after example of not just bad practice but practice which ruins people's reputations and lives and reinforces negative opinions of individuals and racial stereotypes.

The fact that many of us believe everything we read makes me quite fearful for the repercussions on society, especially with the case studies which highlighted that techniques such as misquoting, lying or entrapment were being used not by the red tops but by the 'quality' papers too. It will certainly make me question the reliability of media stories to a greater extent than before. ( )
1 vote tixylix | Oct 16, 2011 |
Continuing in the pattern of “lemme tell you what I think about this”, here’s the book that was finished earlier this week. Once you’ve read it, you probably will read newspapers more carefully; no matter how carefully you thought you read them before.

First, however, let’s have one thing clear from the outset: this is not about how some minority group or secret committee is controlling the world and/or the media. While there may be decisions made about things by groups we know nothing about (that’s why they’re ‘secret groups’ after all), it’s all too easy to shuffle off one’s responsibility for not doing anything to change things by blaming an anonymous ‘powerful individuals’. Here’s an H.L. Menken quote included in the book (p. 395) which goes some way to explain how this sort of thinking can be rubbish:

"…the central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his rights and true deserts … [He] ascribes all his failures to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street or some other such den of infamy."

This book is specifically about how there are few, if any, people in control of the media. While many reporters and editors find all too frequently that they aren’t able to do the fact‐checking they wish to – and are frustrated at the situation’s stasis – they aren’t the cause of it through lack of initiative; they simply haven’t the time. According to the staggeringly persuasive argument of author Nick Davies, the newspapers of the UK are essentially now all owned by people who have little interest in publishing newspapers containing journalism. What these individuals are principally concerned with is simply ‘selling copies of the paper each and every day, and the more the better.’ This ‘quantity over quality’ approach is why they are termed “the Grocers” by Mr. Davies.

Certainly, any business must be operated with an eye to profit v. loss. However, there is so much an avoidance of idealism towards the media’s content, that the readers are being under‐served to the point of unconscionable delivery of falsity on the part of the various persons responsible for the media outlets’ content.

While the book focusses much of its time upon the newspapers of London – including entire chapters each devoted to the Sunday Times, the Observer, and both the Daily and Sunday Mail newspapers – the problems and trends can all be recognised as being world‐wide in scope. The newspapers of North America are, thankfully, prevented from out‐right lying about individuals in print, owing to a reversal of the onus of proof in legal arguments here, when compared to the UK. That said, the habit of reporting quickly and loudly, then correcting slowly and quietly, is one which no legal or regulatory procedure can effectively prevent.

The other worrisome trend is the one first identified in the book: things being simply repeated from the texts of Media Releases without any effort to confirm that there is any validity within them, or even if they contain amplified – or ‘sexed up’, to use the UK Government’s term about the Iraqi WMD reports – versions of the truth which is then responsible for a snowball effect of panic about the subject in question; which then is fed‐back into (EG: Iranian Elections get dropped to cover Michael Jackson’s death) or someone is able to stop the thing by explaining that it’s simply not true in the slightest and we can all relax now (EG: the nullification of the principle of habeas corpus in the USA is only applied to the cases of those naughty terrorists).

The fact that this book doesn’t cover is the recent development of newspapers closing due to financial decisions by their owners, despite any budget restraints they may have imposed prior to the shut‐down. It would be fascinating to know what Mr. Davies’s views of the ‘new media platform’ might do to return journalists to the forefront of the delivery of facts. He suggests late in the book that an over‐haul of newspapers is required, with the probable method of delivery being some sort of display screen.

Read this book, not to begin seeing some Secret Star‐Chamber Cabal controlling the World’s fate, but in order to see that there is an ordinary group of men frantically pulling levers behind the curtain so as to continue making the Great Oz of the Media just as impressive and seemingly required as ever before.

Flat Earth News: An Award‐Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media by Nick Davies; PP 420 (including index), ISBN: 9780099512684; 2nd Edition published in 2009 by Vintage, an imprint of Random House, London, SW1V ( )
1 vote iamiam | Jul 17, 2009 |
Nick Davies illustrates and explains the decline in newspaper news quality over the last 30 years.
It isn't a conspiracy, it's just an overwhelming commercial logic forcing less journalists to produce more stories. How can they do it? They copy them from the pre packaged Associated Press news feed, PR releases or copy from other newspapers and check nothing.
Does it matter? Yes, because special interests can feed the press packaged stories much more effectively than they could in the past when newspapers still had an investigative function. The classic example is the WMD story pushed by the US and GB governments to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Arguably these lies cost Tony Blair his job (which Davies doesn't say) so it seems that the truth still come out, albeit in a much less timely and reliable way. ( )
1 vote Miro | Jun 6, 2009 |
I'd suspected, of course, that most of what sadly passes for "headline news" right now is, in fact, a load of b*ll*cks. What I didn't know was why. Read this passionate, vital and implacably well-argued book, and you'll never trust a headline again. ( )
1 vote othersam | Jun 18, 2008 |
A coruscating crucifixion of modern British journalism. The chapter on the Daily Mail is chilling. The highest commendation of this work are the subsequent reviews - high praise through gritted teeth. Interesting that no-one able to land a killer blow on Davies' core thesis. ( )
1 vote jontseng | Apr 12, 2008 |
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Dog doesn't eat dog. That's always been the rule in Fleet Street.
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When award-winning journalist Nick Davies decided to break Fleet Street's unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, he found that the business of reporting the truth had been slowly subverted by the mass production of ignorance.

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