Press complaints

<strong>Tricks Journalists Play</strong>

Dennis Barker <em>Giles de la Mare, 208pp, £14.99</em>

Journalists are seen as a cynical bunch – not just by politicians, but by the general public as well. Noble ideas of honesty, accuracy and a bit of hard graft seem to have been abandoned in favour of networking and re-spun press releases.

Or so this book, by the veteran journalist Dennis Barker, would have us believe. Barker presents us with 56 short chapters that explain why journalists are so distrusted. His reasons include presentation issues such as overplaying stories to make them simpler and more attention-grabbing, editorial policy and the public’s desire to know the details of everyone’s private life.

Barker blames the commercialisation of newspapers and the temptation for journalists to become celebrities in their own right. In other words, free DVDs and photo bylines have replaced the uncovering of scandals.

While the book is a useful critique of modern reporting techniques, its weakness lies in failing to separate adequately the different strands of journalism. What’s more, Barker can appear to be looking back through rose-tinted glasses at an age that had its own problems, not least the notorious Fleet Street liquid lunches. However, he does well to call for more investigative journalism and a public campaign to support a rethink within the profession.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The new terror