“Skeptics in the Pub
” is exactly what the name suggests -a group of skeptics that meet once a month in a pub in London. Plus, they get to listen to a renowned skeptic talking about a relevant subject. And this time, today, it was Nick Davies taking on the ever popular Bad Media issue
. There, I just explained the title of this post.
Nick Davies is a reporter for the Guardian
and the author of “Flat Earth News
” -a journey through the darkest corners of the journalistic demise. The theme of his talk was (unsurprisingly, and as already mentioned) bad media and bad journalists.
Amongst a stream of hilarious (but intertwined with some sad) examples, Nick tried to emphasize the reasons behind the fall of pure, unrestricted, investigative reporting:
- media commercialization on a large scale which means targeting cost-effectiveness, which in turn means less time for journalists to cover more stuff. Nevertheless there was a semi-positive side effect in that the focus moved away from propaganda and into pure profit… Semi-positive indeed.
- significantly less freelance reporters on the streets, which means less connection with what is really going on locally. This has created an almost total reliance on two sources: the major news services like the Reuters and the Associated Press, or, on the other end, Public Relations and Press offices! There is no direct contact with the first or even second hand line of those actually involved.
Everything is being recycled. There is too little investigative journalism going on. There is too little fact checking. Or to put it bluntly, there is too much bullshit
Readership loss and the emergence of the internet has further handcuffed reporters who (according to Nick) are forced to repeat obviously false stories (aka bullshit) in order to let their readers into what every other newspaper is spewing out! Otherwise, the few remaining readers will feel like outsiders and will decide to start reading a newspaper that covers all the buzzy stories. The “Teenage Ninja Turtle
” effect as Nick put it
Bottom line: it’s just not working properly at the moment
-and I think that’s obvious to everyone with half a mind. And it doesn’t seem like improving in the near future -and that’s obvious too…
I’ll close this post with a valid point that Nick raised, a valid target to illustrate his point, but an otherwise invalid example
. This is as I remember him saying it and not an exact quotation so bear with me:
Nick was discussing how the media like to re-enforce the general feelings of the public. Diana died and people were mourning? Let’s run sad stories with sad headlines! But what about a much more recent example? The euphoria and feeling of change that Barack Obama
’s election has spread through people in every corner of the earth. Everyone is talking of change, perhaps partly because the US has voted for a black guy for the first time in its brief history. But Nick doesn’t believe Obama signifies a big change over his predecessors. To justify this, he says that Obama believes in God, he is deeply religious, and believes in capitalism. If he was a politician in the UK he would be in the right-wing conservatives section!
Now, don’t get me wrong. As I have made obvious before
, I do believe that Obama is a huge advance forward after eight years of Dubya, but I also believe that people generally expect him to make miracles, which of course is never going to happen -let alone after being handed a country in such a big mess! And I still believe Nick Davies got it wrong here: Obama might believe in God (or, as I think, he says he believes in God because as we all know it is impossible to get elected in the US otherwise
!) but he has made it clear that this will not under any circumstances intervene in his decision process or policy making. He has stated many times that the US is not a Christian nation
-it is a nation of many different belief systems and even an atheist nation.
Second, Obama’s early actions certainly do not point towards conservatism! If anything they point towards a rational decision making process, based on evidence and science. He will get many things wrong of course, but thus far he stands on the opposite end of the political spectrum, not on the conservative one! His lifts on bans on federal funding of abortion clinics and groups, as well as stem cell research, are more than enough to demonstrate his total separation from the religious-driven conservative policies of the previous administration!
And that’s why I think Nick used a bad example to demonstrate his point. Obama was of course in the middle of such a “campaign” by the media (seeing that he was a very popular figure all around the world). But to deny that his actions point towards a much more liberal and rational mentality is certainly not justified at this point.
On a side note, there was one person I was expecting to see in a bad media discussion, and he was indeed there. Ben Goldacre
was in the crowd with his bicycle helmet and his “The Daily Mail hates me
” pin! Unfortunately for Ben, there seem to be a lot more “news” and media outlets that hold the same feelings towards him!