Any journalist who has read Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News is likely to think twice before picking up the phone to get the counter argument to ‘balance’ the story.
Or if they still do subscribe to that formulaic news format (‘he said-she said’ = ‘a row broke out today’) for the sake of it where it’s simply not relevant, they’re probably cynically resigned to repetitive, unimaginative journalism, and care little for its value.
Ever since (and this was pre-publication of Davies’ tome) I heard a journalist in a regional newsroom ring up a local councillor for the ‘anti-PC’ line and feed them ‘it’s PC gone mad, isn’t it?’*, I’ve tried to avoid that news reporting pattern (where possible) and I’m currently in the lucky position where I don’t have a cynical ‘we know what the readers want’ editor pressing story formulae on me.
Like Davies says (I think it’s in the book too, but he certainly said this at last year’s CIJ summer school), there are times when you should just look out the bloody window (or something along those lines) when reporting whether the sky is blue or grey. You don’t always have to create a row to make a story.
Nonetheless there are times when rows break out – witness that in action on Charlie Beckett’s blog today: between some key figures in the media regulation debate. So I felt vindicated in writing this news article which described a clash between the Media Standards Trust and the PCC: I couldn’t think of any other way to present it, apart from ‘he said he did – he said he didn’t – he said he did – he said he didn’t’.
Whatever the whys and wherefores of the arguments going on here, it certainly shows there’s some interesting debate on regulation to come, and I’m going to start canvassing some alternative opinions on what shape future regulatory models could take.
*a story concerning the local school nativity play … I’ll leave the rest to your imagination – endless variations.