Monday, 5 May 2008

The shoe-horn cracked.

Nick Davies' excellent deconstruction of what must be one of the worst reported stories this year - the Haut de Garenne investigation - is a great Bank Holiday read. (Oh, how sad is that?). Until this:

"Like so many false and distorted stories, this one was driven by PR, here from the police. That PR material was used by media outlets without sufficient checks and then recycled secondhand by masses of others, all of them falling foul of the commercialised media's in-built preference for certainty over doubt; for fitting facts into fictional templates; for taking the safe road of running the same angle as the rest of the media; and, most of all, for running stories which sell."

You really could hear the shoe-horn crack. Somewhere deep, deep in the background of the Haut de Garenne insanities may perhaps be aspects of the far from unarguable journalistic universe that Nick articulates in Flat Earth News. But even if they are, they're well hidden by the figures in the foreground - the 'reporters' locked into a ritualised reverence for 'the story'.

By Nick's own account, the information shared with journalists was a million miles from PR - and it's worth trying to imagine the alternative for a moment. What if deputy chief officer of police, Lenny Harper had revealed nothing of the inquiry in press notices and conferences?

Inevitably, details would have leaked and the headlines would have been similar, the coverage similarly mendacious and chaotic ... with the added implied verification "it must be true because they didn't want us to know it."

Coverage like that of Haut de Garenne is much more the result of the internal rites and rituals of reporters obsessed with the outdated idea of 'the story' - and their preparedness to bend or omit any set of facts to make 'the story' - than it is newsrooms' surrender to commerical pressure or slave-labour news production quotas.

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