Fraudcast News – how bad journalism serves our bogus democracies

My name is Patrick Chalmers. I have worked as a journalist for the last 20 years, just over half of that time with the Reuters news agency, since become Thomson Reuters.

I spent the last few wondering what on earth my work, and that of my chosen profession, should be about. The result is Fraudcast News, a book about both democracy and journalism. During the next couple of months it will be made available free to read online or in paid-for eReader and paper forms. This blog will chart its progress from draft to final publication.

I am making the book available under a Creative Commons Licence, meaning it will be free to share for non-commercial purposes with attribution to the original source. I am inspired in this approach by the U.S. media writer Dan Gillmor.

Why democracy and journalism? Because I don’t think there is any point in the second unless its main role is to be a watchdog of the first. That begs the obvious question of what democracy truly is.

It’s a term we use very lazily, usually without thinking. My own preference is to give it something close to its original meaning – which is power in the hands of the people. I don’t believe what our modern politicians call democracy, what we routinely accept as democracy, is anything close to that original meaning. This has huge implications for our current modes of government – something I explore in depth in the book.

Journalism does a very bad job of tackling the accountability deficit in modern politics. It fails to do what should be its core function – to scrutinise our governors and the governance systems that hold them in power. That is the nub of Fraudcast News.

As for the book itself, the following is a synopsis for how it stands as of today, before its full, final edit. Any ideas or suggestions you might have to help it on its way would be very welcome.

Fraudcast News
How bad journalism serves our bogus democracies

By Patrick Chalmers


Emerging from Copenhagen’s Tårnby train station into the early morning sleet of December 2009, I have only a vague idea of my role for the hours ahead. Should I be a news reporter or protestor in this attempt to force an entry into global climate change talks a couple of miles away? Despite 20 years in and around mainstream journalism I can’t decide, the police sirens and nervous chatter from a several hundred-strong crowd only worsening the confusion.

To the backbeat of a heavily policed civil disobedience march that pulls me towards breaking the law myself, we meet the book’s twin themes – the collapsing credibility of our governments and the failure of conventional journalism to acknowledge and examine the governance crisis that collapse implies.

For me, journalism’s failure is personal. Having taken years to break into the profession, I find its great boast of speaking truth to power little more than a charade. A journey begun as an eager novice left me pondering my vocation’s credibility problems and lack of purpose. Experiences reporting on government in Britain, the Europe Union and globally left me allergic to hearing the word “democracy” without accompanying qualification. Those I covered on assignment – the politicians, bankers, business leaders and their like who wield power in today’s world – drove home my sense of representative democracy’s broken promises. The multiple contradictions eventually forced me out in search of alternatives.

Fraudcast News maps out this personal journey, offering a human foil to the broader failure of our politics and the journalism accompanying them. Part personal confessional, part manifesto, the book suggests how we, as media audience members and content generators, can challenge our corrupted governance structures. For the growing band of humanity despairing of conventional government, this book says not just how we might hold our governors and media to account but also how to replace them.

Book structure

We meet the author and his relationship with the book’s twin themes – representative democracies’ collapsing credibility and the failure of conventional journalism to acknowledge or examine the glaring governance deficits that collapse implies.

Chapter 1 – Doorstepping journalism
We follow the author’s trail from budding reporter to staff journalist as he dodges serial traps and career killers in the form of unpaid work placements, pricey media studies courses and jobs galore in public relations. Neither the route nor the destination offers any journalists’ paradise, with media ownership and income sources just two of the filters throttling the wide diffusion of vibrant, diverse and politically dissident media.

Chapter 2 – Europhile turned foul
At last inside the business, the author tries to hone his imagined role as societal watchdog within the constraints of daily work for a global news agency. On the way, we start our tour of modern, multi-level governance structures, the EU’s base lack of democracy being a glaring case of grossly deficient accountability.

Chapter 3 – Fear and greed correspondent
With the book’s critiques of conventional journalism and governance in place, we shift to London’s global bullion markets for a view of the formidable powers of banks and traders. An explosion in barely regulated financial derivatives, subverting the very industries and markets they claimed to have been designed help, foreshadows the global financial crisis to come.

Chapter 4 – Malaysian dilemmas
A Kuala Lumpur posting shows up the real-world effects of financial crises and possible responses, taking in bodies such as the IMF and World Bank. Yet for all Malaysian politicians’ dissident credentials, and shared ground with global justice campaigners, their domestic repressions show the real limits of representative democracy. The main lesson: neither Reuters nor any other mainstream media is fit to tackle such issues.

Chapter 5 – Our democratic delusions
Cut loose from conventional media, we look at the origins and realities of democracy. Why is it that modern, representative democracy compares so badly with the Ancient Greek original and for whose benefit? Among those despairing of conventional politics and journalism are the people who have turned instead to civil disobedience and direct action. Are those the only options for would-be change makers?

It’s easy to criticise the state of modern politics and journalism – far harder to fashion solutions either for individuals or groups of people. The array of possibilities considered include ideas for nested networks of citizen-journalism news agencies, operating from local to global levels via all governance layers in between. Their work would highlight accountability problems, public responses and alternative forms of governance.