Since becoming a junior member of Her Majesty’s Press in the mid-1990s I have vigorously defended the influence the media has, maintaining it is largely a force for good.
Yes, there have been dark days in the past decade, a period that has also seen the number of newspapers sold decline dramatically. Yet despite this papers and their digital platforms are the reference point for most when it comes to current affairs.
Even today, in an age when many fancy themselves as a journalist because they have a trillion megapixels in their pocket, news channels dedicate much of their schedules to newspaper reviews as newspapers and their online output are still a reliable news source.
As somebody who worked full-time in the industry until five months ago, I can tell you journalists have never been busier, largely because there hasn’t been a time that staff numbers have been so low. Yet my former colleagues still perform daily miracles producing stories that matter to their readers.
There will always be those who sneer at the press, often the same people who use their social media accounts to repeat libels or make fatuous claims about others they don’t agree with.
If the press does have a real Achilles’ heel it is the way some cover health stories, like those telling readers to embrace or avoid certain foods if they want to make old bones.
The other night I trawled news sites looking for non-Brexit news. On one I came across half a dozen such tales on the same page – stories about chicken causing cancer and how eating mushrooms three times a week reduces the chances of developing cancer. There was one about vegetarians being more at risk from stroke.
While they may have some basis in fact, these reports are presented as either a miracle cure or a threat against humanity. Journalists must realise readers stopped believing such reports years ago. They undermine the otherwise great work of a much-maligned industry.