Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood

Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Gl…


After years of working as a respected journalist, Nick Davies broke the unwritten rule of the media by investigating the practices of his fellow colleagues. In this eye-opening exposé, Davies uncovers an industry awash in corruption and bias. His findings include the story of a prestigious Sunday newspaper that allowed the CIA to plant fiction in its columns; the newsroom that routinely rejects stories about black people; the respected paper that hired a professional fraudster to set up a fro…

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ELI5: Why do so many news agencies cite Reuters stories for their information? What’s so special about Reuters?(r/explainlikeimfive)

You’ve already got enough basic information from others here, so I’ll add to that. This might be longer than you’re after, but hopefully you’ll find some of it useful.

For a more in-depth explanation, a good book to read about how news works today is The Flat Earth News. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It speaks specifically of the context of journalism in the UK, but its lessons translate perfectly to what’s happened in the US, and the book’s aged well – it’s only become more important since 2009.

Ultimately, many news outlets in the past relied on AP and Reuters because it was a great source of reportage for those parts of the world where it might not make sense to have your own reporters.

In the era when every almost major city had two or three major daily newspapers papers, and the US had three television networks, for these outlets (and many magazines) international news was often a “prestige” expense; it might not be a money maker for every newspaper, news magazine, and television network, but if you didn’t have it, it would make your operation seem less serious to the public, and make your entire news operation seem less credible.

Today, AP and Reuters serve a different function. Faced with competition from low-expense outlets on the web, and the diminishing power of the big three US television networks, running an international news department is just another expense in an industry which is suffering loss after loss. Many cities are down to one daily paper, and some even less, with their newspaper of record not appearing every day. Smaller towns which were served by multiple newspapers in the past are even more likely to see contraction. Many of the US’s major news magazines have long since ceased publication.

Many news outlets don’t just source their international news from AP and Reuters, they source as much news as they can from any source they can get. CGP Grey, someone best known for funny, brief explanatory YouTube videos, noted something I found very true in my own experience: the closer you are to a particular subject of interest, the more you notice that news reportage on it is incredibly wrong. This isn’t limited to areas where one has a subjective opinion, such as politics, where if one is an extreme partisan for one major US party, everything someone of the other party says is automatically “wrong” or at least suspect. This includes just basic day-to-day science, technology, human interest, current events, and gossip stories. The basic facts are often wrong, the conclusions are often not sufficiently supported by the evidence, and they simply don’t match what an “insider” to a particular field would agree properly describes the truth, even about non-controversial issues.

This is because most news outlets simply don’t spend as much time and money on real investigative journalism as they used to. Companies and lobby organizations are notorious for sending “pre-written” news stories and videos about products and issues to various outlets, who will cover them with no further investigation, and will sometimes re-write them so superficially that they’d fail a plagiarism review for a high school paper. As far as the original authors of the pieces are concerned, this is fine, because they’re not interested in getting credit for the piece, they’re interested in getting information – usually quite biased – out there to the public.

Here’s an example of someone debunking the sort of corporate press release disguised as news: EEVblog #751 – How To Debunk A Product (The Batteriser). Admittedly, this guy knows his electronics, and he’s not afraid of technical terminology, but the basic point stands is that most of the basic claims made by the makers of this product were easily testable by anyone with a modest budget to grab two identical battery-dependent gadgets and a handful of batteries. They didn’t, because outlets like PC World and others who carried this glorified advertisement need content, not a research project which requires time, editors, and a modest amount of money.

So, AP and Reuters benefit from the same sort of pressures that corporate press release distributors and lobbyist groups benefit from:

  • shortened news cycle
  • reduced news budget
  • significantly reduced news budget for international news
  • less “home competition” (newspapers in the same city, news magazines, and TV channels by people with limited options) driving prestige expenses
  • drastically more outside competition (internet, internet, internet, people with many, many more TV and VOD options than ever before)
  • more of a focus on amount of content rather than quality

This isn’t to say AP and Reuters aren’t good news services; they’re certainly better than the barrage of advertisement-as-copy I’ve referenced. In a world where AP and Reuters are doing more and more of the international reportage for an increasing amount of English-speaking news outlets, however, this is problematic. It limits the amount of opinions we hear. Further, both Reuters and AP are largely defined by their desire to be as objective as possible, sticking only to facts. They’re never perfect at it, being fallible organizations run by fallible humans, but you often need in-depth reporting by people with an opinion and experience, and who can contextualize a situation in another country for a domestic audience who may not fully appreciate it. AP and Reuters are also noted for their brevity, they were not traditionally intended for the job of replacing international news outlets’ foreign correspondence, but rather supplementing them for more out of the way places (a polite way of saying “less newsworthy to the US and the UK”), or giving a gloss of international news to more local organizations which weren’t equipped to provide it at all themselves.

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Nick Davies

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Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Gl…

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