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Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter…

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

by Nick Davies

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Well, this is cheerful stuff. Nick Davies, respected journalist, gives the lie to the notion that the biggest threat to journalism is the interference of owners or the threats of advertisers. His thesis is that the drive for profits has driven journalism to the brink of destruction. Staff cuts and spending cuts have resulted in fewer journalists working with fewer resources on more stories. Unfortunately those stories are provided by the booming new sector that is the Public Relations industry, which is not above manufacturing news and events and whipping up fear and disinformation. Meanwhile, the network of reporters who used to cover all sorts of stories from all over the world has shriveled to nothing. Which leaves us with the interesting question of how true the picture of the world presented to us daily in the media actually is.

Davies traces the decline of old-fashioned journalistic practices and values and the rise of the new 'churnalism,' which reproduces and rewrites PR copy without much in the way of checking or exploring or context. Not everything you read on your newspapers or see on your television is churnalism. But a lot of it is. He also touches on the campaign of lies, distortions and misinformation that was part of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, shocking in its scope and in the utter capitulation of the media in the face of the official line.

Just when you thought you were outraged out, Davies saves the most appalling for last: The Daily Mail and the Press Complaints Commission. One routinely lies and distorts and attacks innocent targets with unmitigated ferocity. The other turns down more than 90% of the complaints it receives without even considering their content.

It ends on a note of pessimism. The only real solution, unstated by Davies, is for a widespread return to the proper funding of proper journalism. The trend at the moment, however, is for less reporters, more stories, higher profits, and so long as that continues truth will suffer and so will we. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Published in 2008, so not up to date, but there's little reason to think that things have improved since then (in my view).
Worth reading if only for the chapter about the Daily Mail. ( )
  ghostdog801 | Feb 16, 2015 |
The 'sister' volume to Davies' recent "Hack Attack", this is well-researched polemic maps the slippery slope of decline in British newspapers - from journalism to churnalism. Davies is thorough on the impact of PR, government spin and corporate ownership, and while his glasses may be a little rose tinted for the pre-Murdoch era, there's plenty of stories here to support his point. A little slow at times (it lacks the narrative drive of the more recent book) it's still well worth a read, especially if you want to know why so many respected commentators fell for the Iraq WMD story. ( )
  Parthurbook | Aug 17, 2014 |
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 ( )
2 vote iamiam | Jul 17, 2009 |
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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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