Anthony Hilton: Web culture leads to lazy journalism

I was reminiscing with someone who for years has been one of the leaders in investigative financial journalism, when he caused a surprise by saying how much easier the job had become. These days, he said, so few journalists have the time or the inclination to do the basics. The simplest bit of digging will turn up a good story that everyone has missed.

Anthony Hilton: Web culture leads to lazy journalism
Anthony Hilton: Web culture leads to lazy journalism

It struck a chord. Journalists receive a vast amount of unsolicited published material and one can understand if some of them lose the appetite to go digging in the further mountains that are available via the web, but not pushed at them by an enterprising PR person.

Unfortunately, though, that is only part of the story. Disturbingly, what seems to be happening is that even the readily available stuff is not read properly and if the story is neither sensational, nor in the first couple of pages or the executive summary, then it is likely to be missed. Journalists - like society - seem to be losing the ability to deal with complex issues and difficult material. Some of the most important things - the beginning of a trend, a change in direction in the health of an industry, the turning point in a company's fortunes or the success of a sector - can be picked up in these seemingly dense reports. But to do so usually requires giving them a close and subtle reading, which they often do not get.

That is not encouraged in modern newsrooms, where the emphasis instead seems to be on the speed and breadth of coverage, rather than its depth and quality.

The head of one of our big financial PR firms told me the other day that the shelf life of financial news was until 11am and after that his focus was entirely on generating comment. His beef, however, was that the conditions for intelligent comment - a well informed and knowledgeable journalist, the availability of sources to talk around the subject, time for additional research, and space to think and talk about it - were less available.

Financial commentators used to have all day to put their thoughts together for the following morning. Today, it has to be on the website within half an hour.

In such circumstances, it is not surprising the value of the comment is plummeting.

Anthony Hilton, City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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