I’m currently part way through Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News, which highlights what he describes as a crisis in journalism, and the role that PR and political manoeuvering plays in it. So I was interested to read the report in today’s PR Week about a Reuters Institute study on the same subject, What’s Happening to Our News, which decides that, all things considered, PR isn’t a cancer eating at the heart of journalism (so that’s alright then…).
I recognise a lot of what Davies says about a crisis in journalism, driven by cost-cutting and staff shortages, and the demands of a 24-hour news machine. I think his section laying into PR is actually pretty weak. He’s much stronger on the evils of political manipulation of news and in particular the role of the CIA and the Bush administration’s machinations in the ‘war on terror’.
What Davies doesn’t touch on (unless it’s in the bit I haven’t read yet) is the effect the media has on politics. Outside Whitehall it might appear that the politicos are pulling all the strings. Inside it often feels quite different (this was touched on in Digby Jones’ evidence to the select committee. A second name check in a week for Lord Jones!) Far too often serious political issues are reduced to their simplest possible essence – who’s “in” and who’s “out” ? Was that a gaffe? Who’s been disloyal to the leader? Who’s making a leadership bid? I can’t think of anything less likely to encourage intelligent debate than the Today programme’s habit (thankfully ended) of wheeling in Nick Robinson to deconstruct political interviews immediately they’ve happened, to decode what the politician actually meant when he said X (Nick usually thought he meant Y, but sometimes he grudgingly agreed that he meant X but that X wasn’t what the Party needed to hear) The issue of the damage caused by a cynical, confrontational media constantly trying to find out “why is that lying bastard lying to me?” was explored in John Lloyd’s book What the Media is Doing to Our Politics , which makes a good companion piece to Davies.
The title of this post, by the way, is the first line of a ditty I used to mutter to myself after a particularly difficult call:
You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist. But seeing what the man unbribed will do, There’s really no occasion to.