'Factory-style news will kill off skilled reporters'

By Dominic Ponsford

Skilled reporters are a dying breed, according to award-winning Guardian writer Nick Davies.

Launching a series of “masterclasses” he is running at City
University, in London,  Davies also condemned a cost-cutting
culture
which has led to “factory-style reporting”.

The former British
Press Awards Reporter of the Year said: “I think there’s a real danger
that the skills of reporting are dying out. We are a bit like
carpenters used to be. There used to be a joiner who could make
furniture in every community in this country, now everyone buys their
furniture premade in a factory. Factory reporting is taking over and
the skill is dying.

“There’s an old maxim that news is what
someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to know. If that’s true then the
most important skill for reporters is to persuade people to talk to
them when they don’t want to.

“I don’t know of a single
journalism teaching course in the country that even asks that question
let alone trains people to know how to answer it.

“More and more
journalists are rewriting press releases or re-writing agency copy
which has come from press releases.We are writing what somebody has
dumped on the desk.

“The tendency is, and it’s worse in the
regional press, to strip reporters out of the newsroom. There are some
people doing eight stories a day – there’s no way they can go and get
people to talk to them and find out things that aren’t just being
presented in a press release.”

Davies has worked for The Guardian
since 1979, currently as a special correspondent, and has previously
worked on World in Action. Over the last year he has been involved in
the post Hutton Report training programme at the BBC.

One of the skills which he believes reporters have lost is door-stepping.

He
said: “I think it is one of the most difficult things a reporter can
do. You turn up on the doorstep and you’ve got five seconds to deal
with that personwho doesn’t want to talk to anybody let alone some
idiot with a notebook.

“There really are skills involved in turning that person’s thinking around – but they are not being taught.”

Davies
believes the skills shortage in the national press is partly a result
of the de-unionisation of Fleet Street in the mid-1980s.

He
believes the nationals have suffered from the ending of the NUJbacked
practice which meant journalists had to train in the regional press
before they could work on Fleet Street.

He said: “There are some
national newspapers that are quite scary in that they’ve got reporters
working for them who have been taught how to do their jobs in the wrong
way. There are also now middle-ranking executives who don’t really know
what reporting is about. There are very bright people coming straight
on to Fleet Street and not knowing what they are doing.”

Davies
is holding three one-day courses on investigative reporting at City University on 18, 20 and 22 April, cost £117.50.

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