Ever since signing up to become a very junior member of Her Majesty’s Press in the mid-1990s, I have vigorously defended the influence that the media has on the general population, maintaining it is largely a force for good.
Yes, there have been dark days indeed for the industry during the past decade or so, a period of time that has also seen the numbers of newspapers sold decline dramatically, yet despite this relatively recent strife, papers and their various digital platforms are the reference point for the majority when it comes to current affairs. As somebody who was working full-time in the industry until five months ago, I can tell you that journalists and reporters have never been busier.
Yet, my former colleagues still perform miracles on a daily basis by producing stories, features and campaigns that matter to both their readers and the wider community.
There will always be those who sneer at the press, usually parroting tired cliches such as ‘don’t believe what you read in newspapers’. In my experience, it is usually these 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, however, it is the way that some of the biggest titles cover health stories. In particular, those telling readers to both embrace and avoid certain foodstuffs if they want to make old bones.
The other night I did a trawl of news sites to look for news that wasn’t about the Brexit farce. On one major site, I came across stories about chicken causing cancer, about how eating mushrooms three times a week reduces the chances of developing cancer, then there was the one about vegetarians being more at risk from strokes and how sniffing a lemon can make you thinner.
While all of these may have some basis in fact, these studies and reports are being presented to readers on a daily basis as either a miracle cure or a threat against humanity. Journalists need to realise that most readers stopped believing such reports years ago.
They undermine the otherwise great work of a much-maligned industry.