Investigative journalist Nick Davies has sparked a debate across the industry about the state of British journalism after savaging his own profession in his book Flat Earth News.
Last week, Press Gazette published an extract from the book detailing new research that claims 80 per cent of home news stories in UK nationals are at least partly made up of agency or PR copy.
This week in Press Gazette he turns his fire at Press Association – claiming that the news agency ‘does not attempt to tell the truth to the world”.
Davies told Press Gazette: ‘The opinion of journalists on the book is divided between ordinary working journalists, not just from Britain, but from all over the world, who are texting and emailing to say ‘Thank God you said that’, and editor and owners who say it’s rubbish. But they would say that, wouldn’t they?”
On Davies’s criticism that newspapers use too much PR and wire copy, some journalists have argued that agencies like Press Association and Reuters are among the most trusted names in the industry.
Davies said: ‘It’s mad that reporters spend so much time rewriting agency copy so that the newspapers can pretend that their reporters have worked on it. If you’re going to use PA copy just run it – let’s free up reporters to go and do their job.”
Davies has been taken to task by Guardian northern editor Martin Wainwright over his account in the book of how national newspapers and broadcasters reported that a five-year-old boy had been hanged from a tree in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire by bullies but survived.
He was seriously injured from being strangled with string, but Davies found no evidence that he had been hanged after searching through every local, national and agency story on the case. Police consistently denied the hanging story as did the case pathologist.
Wainwright admitted that a headline of one of his stories, in which said a boy was ‘left hanging”, was misleading. But he defended his reporting on the case and also that of the Yorkshire Post, and took issue with Davies’s description of the case as a ‘little story”.
‘My view is that I don’t think that was a badly handled story at all; it was a very poor example to choose,’he said.
‘Davies said this was a case of nasty bullying, but West Yorkshire Police homicide and major enquiry team ran this investigation and they don’t deal in bullying. If they’re involved, all journalists around here know that it’s something serious.”
Davies responded: ‘The Fleet Street claim that that boy was hanged was 100 per cent unfounded, and I would be interested if anybody could point me to a single source that contradicts that.’