Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Good Journalism, Bad Journalism

We watched "All the President's Men" at the History Film Club last Monday. It's slow, but it shows the painstaking care with which the two Washington Post journalists working on the Watergate case - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein - went about proving their case. Their story eventually brought down a president, but it took many months to get there, and the film illustrated the frustrations of real, investigative journalism, and the painstaking need for certainty, for getting every controversial fact approved by at least three sources. It was a remarkable tale, and no less tense for knowing the eventual outcome. It was a portrayal of journalism at its best. It was an illustration of what one hopes men and women go into journalism for. To bring the mighty to account, to represent the poor and voiceless, to bring us true stories that illuminate the world we live in, to answer the almost unanswerable question of Pilate in the gospels - "What is truth?"

So hold all that in mind and turn now to this harrowing tale posted by one Juliet Shaw (and which I came across courtesy of Jack Burkill, pursuing a little bit of investigativism of his own!). It concerns her dealings with the Daily Mail in 1993. The Daily Mail is one of the most influential voices in the arena of public discourse in this country, and while it is ridiculed on facebook it is read devotedly by hundreds of thousands of citizens. But in the instance described by Miss Shaw, it comes across as a paper that lies and misrepresents its interviewees, to extraordinary detriment. Juliet Shaw was just one of four women, none of them famous, whose lives were trashed by the newspaper and its fatuous, inadequate, shameless reporter.

The Washington Post was at its most triumphant in the 1970s. Its reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, and its editor, Ben Bradlee, and countless others working on it, managed somehow to see journalism as a decent, even moral calling. The Daily Mail should recover some of that spirit itself. I'm aware that Juliet Shaw's tale dates from some years ago, but comments below the story suggest that the Mail is still in hoc to such poor stroy making methods as were evinced in 1993.

There is good journalism out there. The Guardian and Independent stand out in this regard. The Guardian's Nick Davies broke the story of News Corporation's bugging pandemic, while that same paper's media commentator, Roy Greenslade, has used his blog to bring Juliet Shaw's story to a wider audience. Davies, of course, has also authored one of the best recent books into the convoluted world of the media, "Flat Earth News".

UPDATE: This post sums up one of the Mail's reporting techniques beautifully.

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