Are reporters doomed?

Thoughtful piece by David Leigh.

You can get junk food on every high street. And you can get junk journalism almost as easily. But just as there is now a Slow Food movement, I should also like to see more Slow Journalism. Slow Journalism would show greater respect for the reporter as a patient assembler of facts. A skilled craftsman who is independent and professionally reputable. A disentangler of lies and weasel words. And who is paid the rate for the job. Aren’t such people essential for probing the dodgy mechanisms of our imperfect democracy, and our very imperfect world?

But the power of reporting does not lie entirely — or even mostly — in the nobility of its practitioners, or their professional skills. Or their celebrity status. It also lies in the preservation of media outlets that are themselves powerful.

When I reflect on the investigations I have been involved in, I realise that the reporter does have influence. We have written about the scandal of tax-dodgers with private jets pretending to live in Monaco, but still working four days a week in a London office. The government now says it will close that loophole. We wrote some rather savage articles about plans to restrict use of the Freedom of Information Act. They dropped the plans. And Rob Evans and I have written scores of articles detailing the corrupting influence
of the defence ministry’s arms sales department. The government now says it will shut the department.

There is only one reason why these stories have an effect. I like to think, of course, it is down to our own personal brilliance. But it is not. It is because a story on the front page of the Guardian carries clout. So do reports on the BBC, for example — that’s why Andrew Gilligan’s stories about alleged sexed-up dossiers caused such panic and rage in Downing Street. That is perhaps one of the biggest dangers of the media revolution. When the media fragment — as they will — and splinter into a thousand websites, a thousand
digital channels, all weak financially, then we will see a severe reduction in the power of each individual media outlet. The reporter will struggle to be heard over the cacophony of a thousand other voices.

Politicians will no longer fear us. And if that day comes, I’m afraid it really will be the end of the reporter.