In a world where good investigative journalism is in short supply, we need every one of those good journalists that we can get: so much that passes for journalism nowadays is devoted to churning over press releases and PR copy, chasing after those on whom we confer celebrity (or pretend thus), and endless propagandising which masquerades as editorial or opinion pieces. We can ill afford to lose anyone.
Nick Davies at the Leveson Inquiry
But lose we must as time marches on: today is the first day that we will no longer see the by-line of Nick Davies appearing, not at the Guardian, his home for so many years, or elsewhere. Davies, who authored Flat Earth News, the go-to book on the machinations of the Fourth Estate, and whose ceaseless sleuthing uncovered the industrial scale of phone hacking at the late and not at all lamented Screws, has retired.
Some of us knew he had made his mind up to hang up the notepad and pen back in June, but the news came out during a private gathering, it was his story to break, and only a later piece in Press Gazette broke it. The achievements are the stuff of legend: Davies had first joined the Guardian more than 40 years ago. He had majored on the phone hacking saga, but had also brought another recent scoop to the paper.
As Dominic Ponsford notes, “Davies also brokered the deal with Julian Assange which led to The Guardian publishing the Iraq War Logs investigation in 2010 based on files leaked to Wikileaks”. Assange was a difficult and controversial individual with whom to do business: sometimes such characters have to be entertained, for the invaluable information they yield. Another story for which many in the press resented the Guardian.
The attitude of that larger part of the Fourth Estate towards the phone hacking revelations was equally resentful: it was grudgingly conceded that the activity was illegal, that those affected by it were entitled to damages, and that there should be criminal sanction of the perpetrators. But the impression was given that it was all terribly unfair, that somehow those hacked deserved it, that the press should be like Fight Club.
The Guardian was excoriated for telling the world that the press was not whiter than white. The paper was blamed over again for the closure of the Screws, which the Murdochs had been planning for some time and which Davies and his paper did not, and could not, have influenced. Such is the reward for being right all along, when most in the industry would rather instead see quiet and deferent conformity.
There are far too few coming into the industry who measure up to the standards set by Davies and his fellow investigative journalists at the Guardian, and those who have worked in the paper’s service in the recent past. That much should concern us; that the Murdoch empire has spread its tentacles back into the heart of Government should concern us more. And the next time the corruption is laid bare, it will be without Davies’ assistance.
Enjoy that retirement, Nick. My God, but we are going to miss you terribly.