Nick Davies: 'From Denmark to Dunedin journalists feel effects of cost-cutting'

Dog, Nick Davies wrote in Flat Earth News, does not eat dog. Except this dog did: and, still licking his lips one year on, he’s lived to tell the tale.

Flat Earth News famously turned journalism’s glare on itself. The shortcuts and spending cuts were exposed, silent fears were bellowed, and an industry’s future was questioned.

But, despite turning on his own, the wave of outrage never showed. There was, of course, a trickle of tough questions, but – mainly – the industry nodded its head and agreed.

And – despite those tough questions – when the publishers needed corrections for the paperback, Davies says there were just 24 – all small, and mostly spellings.

‘It was really encouraging,’he says. ‘The journalists recognised what the book was saying, and did come out and support me. I had a number of supportive emails and letters from working journalists.

‘At that point there were a small number of bad guys running round and being threatening. It was genuinely reassuring to have working journalists propping me up.”

Now, Davies – an award-winning reporter before he wrote Flat Earth News – is preparing an investigative reporting masterclass with Guardian assistant editor David Leigh, taking place in London next month. More journalism, less churnalism, is the aim.

Since Flat Earth News, he says he has spoken to ‘120 public meetings’across the world – some just journalists, some not – from Europe to New Zealand. The message, from Denmark to Dunedin, is the same.

‘The big reaction is support,’he says. ‘The significant thing is the problems in the media are the same all across the developed world.

“I went to Denmark to speak to 1,200 journalists and they were all absolutely fascinated by the book – and the reason they were fascinated is they recognised the picture. It’s extraordinary.”

Because, despite the headlines, Davies’s anger wasn’t with journalists – overworked and understaffed – but with their bosses. The boardroom, he says, is where journalism’s journey is plotted – not the newsroom.

‘It’s really about the fact that if you suck money out of newsrooms, you certainly will damage the quality of the newsgathering,’he says.

‘There are media executives all across the developed world that are trying to pretend that you can cut budgets from the newsroom and carry on producing quality news, and they can’t. It’s a con trick. We can’t allow media executives to adopt these false solutions.”

But is there no sympathy with executives, under pressure from fierce, faceless paymasters?

‘I would have more sympathy if they hadn’t wasted years on making massive amounts of money while still digging it out of the newsroom, and putting it into the pockets of shareholders – or indeed their own pay packets,’he says.

Flat Earth News, sails billowed by the publicity storm, is understood to have sold more than 20,000 copies in hardback, and earned a number of reprints. Davies, though, will not predict the future – but insists journalism, in the right hands, has one.

‘I think only drunks and liars say they can see the future,’he says. ‘But I think the book has helped focus people’s thinking, and generated good debate and discussion.

‘I still haven’t come across anybody who’s said ‘Here’s the solution, here’s the business model’. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one – it just means we have to keep looking.”

The Masterclass in Investigative Reporting takes place on Saturday 21 February from 10am to 6pm at City University, London.

Tickets are £125 – or £25 for students – with a free bar afterwards. For more information, visit www.reportermasterclass.co.uk.

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