Thursday, 23 February 2012

Unreliable Sources

Title: Unreliable Sources

Author: John Simpson

Number of pages: 562

Started: 14 February 2012

Finished: 23 February 2012

Opening words:

Reporting is an art form which has sometimes been mistaken for a science. People who read the news in the paper or on a website, who listen to a radio bulletin or watch television news, usually imagine they are getting something close to the truth. Instead, they are merely getting something approaching the truth. Anybody who has witnessed an event, and then come across a news report of it afterwards, knows how inaccurate the reporting can be. There are mistakes of fact, of understanding, of interpretation. Journalists are like portrait painters: their work will be accurate and fair, or inaccurate and distorted, according to their individual capability.

Plot summary:

Through many decades of groundbreaking journalism, John Simpson has become not only one of the most recognisable and trusted British personalities, but has transferred his skill to books with multiple bestselling success. With his new book he turns his eye to how Great Britain has been transformed by its free press down the years. He shows how, while the press likes to pretend it's independent, they have enjoyed the power they have over the events they report and have at times exercised it irresponsibly. He examines how it changed the world and changed itself over the course of the last hundred years, from the creation of the Daily Mail and the first stokings of anti-German sentiment in the years leading up to the First World War, to the Sun's propping up of the Thatcher government, and beyond. In this self-analysis from one of the pillars of modern journalism some searching questions are asked, including whether the press can ever be truly free and whether we would desire it to be so.

What I thought:

When I started this book, I struggled a bit to get into it. I think it was in part because I wasn’t necessarily that familiar with some of the people John Simpson was referring to. However, I soon warmed to it and found it really interesting to see how the press has evolved (or not…).

I particularly started to enjoy the book when it moved on to the Wallace Simpson era, perhaps because this is a period of history I am more familiar with. The whole book was a really interesting insight though, and gave a rather concerning sense of how sceptical we should be about what we read in the papers – some things are just made up, others are misreported and others are given as seemingly first hand accounts from people who weren’t even there.

The papers that came out the best were the Guardian and the Telegraph, and it has certainly confirmed my thinking about some of the daily offerings. It was a good, although not entirely easy read that gave a really informative view of how the media shapes us and the world around us.

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