Salon (Premium) has an excellent story today by Trevor Butterworth on the quality of reporting in the British press. I can’t tell you how many utterly fascinating stories I’ve seen on the Web sites of various British papers since the 9/11 attack that I haven’t linked to because they’re poorly sourced and can’t be corroberated in other publications. Butterworth’s article explains that the journalistic standards in the British press are, for the most part, much lower than they are at major US papers and that the journalistic culture there is much different than it is in the US. Here’s one quote that provides some of the gist of the story:
The problem is primarily economic. Britain is the most competitive news market in the world, and news reporting — especially international reporting — is pretty darned expensive compared to columns about the travails of gaining or losing weight (step forward “Bridget Jones’s Diary”). “Executives did sums,” wrote former Independent Sunday editor Ian Jack in his 1998 introduction to “The Granta Book of Reportage.” And their cost-benefit analysis was ultimately driven by what Jack called “the specter of the reader’s boredom, the viewer’s lassitude.”
“‘Stories are important because they sell newspapers; therefore they will be bought, stolen, distorted, spun, sentimentalized, over-dramatized and should all else fail invented to woo a public which has 10 national dailies to choose from, and another nine on a Sunday,” he wrote. Only the Financial Times has kept faith with the kind of straight reporting that gave the New York Times its chill authority. Otherwise, Britain has succumbed to a media culture that “places a high premium on excitement, controversy and sentimentality, in which information takes second place to the opinions it arouses.” Even the BBC has suffered, according to a critical Atlantic Monthly assessment by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, who argued that a decade of bad management and a fragmented British television market have contributed to a decline in standards and resources.