Last year it was broadcasting’s turn. This year it’s spreading to the rest of mainstream media. Nor is it just pinpricks and scratches, but gashes and body blows.
Mainstream media is under attack – for being too powerful, for getting too close to the establishment, and for being opaque and unaccountable. And that’s no bad thing.
In his new book, ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’, Peter Oborne accuses those within the media of colluding with the new political class. This is a wounding accusation which, if true, undermines the credibilty of the media’s claims to be acting as the watchdog of power on behalf of the public. It also exposes those within mainstream media to scrutiny by new media ‘watchdogs’ (ie. bloggers), under the guise of ‘public interest journalism’.
Indeed this is exactly how bloggers like Guido Fawkes rationalize writing about the private lives of media folk. The people I write about, Fawkes says, are ‘at the heart of the politico-media nexus that constitutes the new ruling class’. Were they ‘soap stars, footballers or chart-toppers [their private lives] would be all over the papers’ he writes, but because they’re within the media establishment they’re not reported.
But a much more serious – and justifiable – attack on mainstream media is on its way in Nick Davies’ forthcoming book, Flat Earth News. Davies, a Guardian journalist and author, claims to have written a corruscating critique of British newspapers – particularly of the way in which they use public relations material and agency copy and make it look as though it is independent journalism.
He bases this critique on his own experience and on a major research project he conducted with Cardiff University’s School of Journalism last year. During the project Davies and Cardiff went back and checked the sources of hundreds of newspaper articles to distinguish between those that were based on original reporting as opposed to agency copy, or PR material. The findings, Davies says, are frightening. So much so that he has nicknamed much of modern journalism ‘churnalism’.
Since neither the book nor the research is out yet I don’t yet know how convincing they are – or damaging to the newspapers. But based on the material Davies has already released (e.g. see this week’s Private Eye and New Statesman) the book should shed some much needed light on the murky hinterland that exists between the press and PR.