Posts Tagged Media
Bad News: How PR Came to Rule Modern Journalism
by Michael Marshall
When: Thursday, December 15th, 2011 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool
“You can’t believe everything you read in the papers.”
Everyone knows this, but few people realise this truism extends far beyond the celebrity pages and gossip columns, and spills into ‘real’ news. Here, the near-invisible influence of PR companies is often pivotal in deciding what news gets told, and how it gets reported. By taking a brief look at the history of modern journalism, and using real examples taken from recent headlines, Michael Marshall will show why you really, really can’t believe everything you read in the papers.
Michael Marshall is the co-founder and vice-president of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and appears on the “Skeptics with a K” and ‘Be Reasonable’ podcasts. Besides organising the national and international 10:23 Campaign against homeopathy, he writes about the often-unsuspected role of PR in modern media. Michael has written for The Times, The Guardian and The New Statesman, and has lectured as part of the Sheffield Hallam University Journalism degree.
Ben Goldacre once called him ‘a mighty nerd from Liverpool’, and the self-proclaimed psychic Joe Power once called him something very rude and unprintable.
The Street Of Shame: Tales of Fleet Street
by Richard Peppiatt
When: Thursday, August 18th, 2011 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool
Rich Peppiatt is a former tabloid reporter who earlier this year quit the Daily Star in a sensational open letter to proprietor Richard Desmond.
His talk will lift the lid on what life is really like behind the doors of Britain’s red tops, what drives the journalists who work for them, and just what needs to be done to reform an industry which for too long has behaved with impunity.
In what promises to be a night packed with anecdotes from the jaw-dropping to the hilarious, Rich will take you on a tour through the pitfalls of Fleet Street.
A few weeks ago I gave a BadNews talk at Ignite Liverpool, a cool evening where people from all manner of backgrounds give 5-minute talks on something that interests them. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure.
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
Have you ever wanted to be a journalist in today’s fast-moving, exciting, cutting-edge, new-media, buzzwordy-buzzword age? I bet you have! You can’t fool me – I know you used to watch the New Adventures Of Superman as a kid and quite fancied the Lois Lane lifestyle: hunting out bad guys, tracking down sources, breaking big stories (admittedly while usually ending up somehow embroiled in those stories to a depth that only a super-powered alien could extricate). It’s OK, you’re not alone, we all wanted to be Lois Lane, myself included. I had the shoes and everything.
Usually, to achieve this lofty ambition I’d suggest that your options were fairly limited – either plug away at blogs and other self-funded and often-largely-unread outlets, and hope to get picked out of the crowd Little-Orphan-Annie-style by some benevolent throwback of a newspaper magnate (good luck in finding one); or you work your way through the tried-and-tested system: take a journalism course costing thousands of pounds, hope it’s one that the newspaper you’re applying to actually respects/recognises, secure a bottom-rung position and begin covering ‘man bites dog’ stories for the ‘Weird News’ section of your local rag until the will to delve has been so beaten out of you that you’re as unwilling to achieve real depth as an asthmatic scuba diver, and then return to the office to file 300 words of copy only to spend the day watching it getting trimmed back and pruned until your day’s work is a 20-word stub just before the classifieds. I’m joking of course, this doesn’t really happen – you’d not have left the office to do any of that: that’s why phones were invented.
Still, that’s what I’d usually offer as advice (not that I’ve been a journalist myself, you understand, so my advice is purely pithy conjecture and semi-satirical commentary). However, today I’m feeling a little more generous, so I’m going to let you into a little secret: there are simpler solutions, easier paths to tread. In short, there are shortcuts. And I’m going to share those shortcuts with you right now: Read the rest of this entry »
It’s admittedly and regretfully rather rare that we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society cover stories of a non-English language nature. That’s entirely mea culpa, malheureusement my non-English language abilities are limited at ‘meilleur’. Still, it would be ridiculous of us not to mention the Wünderbar developments coming out of Germany, where top magazine Der Spiegel ran with the cover story:
Homoöpathie: Die groβe Illusion (‘Homeopathy: The grand illusion’) – Source: Der Spiegel
This, of course, is HUGE. Not least because Germany is oft-cited as a prime example of a healthcare system in which homeopathy is given the ‘respect’ it deserves (I’d argue 10:23 actually gave the respect homeopathy REALLY deserves), but also because Germany is the home of homoeopathy and Hahnemann – all of which making the prospect of the magic water getting ‘Das Boot’ from the German equivalent of the NHS an incredibly sweet pill to swallow.
Far be it from me to wallow in all of the delicious, delicious developments too much, but here’s a glimpse at the online version of the Der Spiegel article, for any of our Deutsch companions out there. What’s that at the bottom? Why, that would be the 10:23 Campaign, cited as an influence! Needless to say (although I will anyway), our collective bosoms swell with pride here at 10:23 HQ. My aforementioned linguistic limitations prevent me from doing it justice in the original German, and the Google translate is admirable if patchy (“Many patients believe the cash to pay only that which helps also detectable. Ennoble why the health insurance with their approach to homeopathy.” – I swear Google hires Master Yoda to do their translating…). With that in mind, allow me to quote from the English version of Deutsche World:
The 200-year-old dubious medical treatment may soon be dropped from German medical insurance providers as a cost-saving measure. The the United Kingdom may also do the same.
Too right we might.
In recent days, the over-two-centuries-old practice of homeopathy has come under fire in Germany.
Dr. Karl Lauterbach, the chair of the parliamentary health committee, recently called for public health insurers to stop funding the practice, which typically involves solutions of small amounts of herbs or other medicines heavily diluted with water and then shaken or stirred to “add energy” to the solution.
According to its proponents, homeopathy can heal patients as well – if not better – than conventional medicine, while its detractors, including nearly all medical doctors and scientists, say that it is no more powerful than a placebo.
“If everybody pays for his beer, then he can pay for his homeopathy,” said Dr. Kay Brune, a professor in the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuernberg, in southern Germany.
Brune added that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that homeopathy actually causes any meaningful and healing bio-chemical reactions in patients, but that doesn’t stop people from believing in a practice that has been so deeply ingrained into the German psyche.
“Homeopathy has a very long tradition in Germany,” he added in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “The founder, Hahnemann was a brilliant physician. But at that time doing nothing was helpful to the patient. In 200 years, the pseudo-science has not taken any steps forward.”
Now, of course, we aren’t arrogant enough for one second to think that we had a huge part to play in this – but if the actions of the 10:23 Campaign and our amazing support (not least the hundreds of national and international ‘overdoses’ who joined in back in January) had even a small effect on this development, I safely speak for everyone at 10:23 and the MSS in saying how immensely proud we are to have been involved.
What’s been staggering over the last 6 months, and in fact back to October when we started letting the 10:23 cat a little out of the bag, is the phenomenal response we’ve had from ordinary people – not just doctors and working scientists. We’ve been blown away by the level of involvement support, coverage and interest 10:23 has had so far, and as we’re starting to see the homeopathic dominoes tumbling here in the UK – and in Germany too, now – the level of interest continues to amaze me. On our side we have the science, we have the support, and we have the momentum.