A great movie about real journalism

There is a wonderful line in the movie The Post where the Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) expresses a concern to his colleagues.

He observes that an experienced reporter at their much bigger rival the New York Times has not had a by-line for three months.

Bradlee then (correctly) deduces that he must be working on a big story.

I recently mentioned this to a journalist buddy who, like me, is old enough to remember the hot metal era of journalism.

Before the digital age staff reporters could be tasked by an editor to “go find me something on that and come back when you have a story”.

It was the era of shoe leather, secondary cigarette smoke and clacking smith coronas.

Journalists got out there, sat down with sources and followed leads.

Such an investment of staff time is simply unthinkable in a modern newspaper.

Consequently, churnalism rushed in to fill the vacuum left by quality reporting.

The daily grind of copy and paste and user-generated content is now the norm for most staffers.

In the journalism schools, students are told that a press release is a source.

Good grief…

This site exists, in a sense, because of the paucity of real journalism on Planet Fitba.

Moreover, the daily traffic here is a testament to the need that it serves.

If all was well with the Fitba Fourth Estate then there would be no need for this site.

One NUJ colleague remarked to me last year that Downfall was the product of thousands of hours of investigative work.

He was correct.

When Downfall was published in 2012 Kevin McKenna broke with the fatwa on the book and wrote a review in the Scottish Review of Books.

In it he stated that:

“If Mac Giolla Bháin had been employed as a staffer on any of Scotland’s national newspaper titles he would be a certainly to be crowned sportswriter of the year, news reporter of the year and journalist of the year for his work on the Rangers story.”

That was very kind of Kevin.

However, one thing that I would add was that within the current business model in the print sector the idea that a staff journalist would have been allowed the time I gave to this story is fantasy.

What you see here on this site is very much tip of the iceberg.

Consequently, there is much that you do not see:

FOI requests, and the inevitable FOI appeals (I did one of the latter yesterday).

Questions into media offices (I occasionally get an answer, but their silence is often more instructive).

And so it goes on…

This site is ten years old this year.

Since 2008 it has shone a light into neglected corners of Planet Fitba, while the chaps in the mainstream media were actively looking the other way.

Of course, this epoch-changing technology didn’t exist in 1971.

The movie opens with Daniel Ellsberg using a photocopier to get the incriminating documents out of the Rand Corporation building.

Back then the Xerox was a huge help to anyone who wanted to pass a dodgy dossier to the media.

Today the whistle-blower would use an encrypted thumb drive.

The damning evidence might turn up on a blog, especially if there is no free press in the country in question.

There are no succulent lamb types portrayed in The Post, just damn good reporters competing with each other to get the story out.

The Washington Post is up against the much bigger New York Times.

They’re in a race to break the big story about a government report about the doomed nature of the Vietnam War.

The documentary evidence leaked by Ellsberg proves that successive US administrations have been lying as their soldiers have been dying.

The right of the newspapers to tell the people about this is ultimately tested in court.

Thankfully those Enlightenment Rebels who defeated Britain in the 18th century saw that a future US President just might want to prevent such journalistic scrutiny.

In The Post, the newspapers have their First Amendment rights upheld in court and the people have the right to know what is in the Pentagon Papers.

What Ellsberg had smuggled past the security guards then becomes public knowledge.

Three years after the Tet offensive of 1968 it is a turning point in the hearts and minds of the American public.

US Administrations back to Truman had been lying to them about the prospects of a military victory in Indochina.

After the Pentagon Papers, the only thing that the Nixon Administration could do was to get the hell out of Saigon.

“Peace with honor” was the euphemism for defeat.

This is weighty stuff and much more important than Keith Jackson’s unquestioning credulity in November 2010 about the net worth of Craig Whyte.

However, any time that the media are craven and venal then democracy suffers.

In the digital age, there are no Chinese walls between the sports desk and the news desk.

If PR companies can unduly influence one part of a newspaper then the Domino Theory is in play.

Once the succulent lamb has been ingested then the contagion can spread throughout the title.

For the avoidance of doubt, there are very many fine news journalists working in Scotland.

I’m honoured to have some of them as friends.

Their private opinion of the sports desk chaps is, well, witheringly unkind, but not essentially untrue.

When it comes to matters Ibrox the press pack is cowed.

On Planet Fitba the local media exist to keep The People soothed and poorly informed.

That is why there is has been precious little questioning about the recent…ahem…overdraft from Close Brothers.

If you want to be reminded of what genuine journalism looks like then go and see The Post.

It is an excellent representation of those difficult and yes obsessed misfits who dig out the stories that the powerful want hidden.

The diggers are on your side dear reader, every single day.

If they’re not, then they stop being journalists and that is a betrayal.

Have a great day.

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