By Claire Smyth
The newspaper industry is dying because the internet is stealing all its readers. This was the message to Brighton journalism students who attended a talk earlier this month by the Guardian newspaper reporter who helped to break many of the recent Wikileaks cables.
He described his first meeting with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a Brussels café where they negotiated the handing over of secret documents on the war in Afghanistan which the Guardian newspaper published last year.
Mr Davies said he chanced upon the discovery after reading a story about the arrest of Bradley Manning – a whistleblower who passed on classified information to Assange.
He said: “Most of the time I find stories by using my imagination, looking at something and wondering if anything else is there.
“You’re constantly using your imagination to guess what might be there. You have to use your brain like a muscle.”
While also working on the News of the World phone-hacking revelations, Davies was secretly investigating the documents handed over by Assange – who gave him access to secret files by underlining letters on a beer mat to create a password.
Davies added: “We had to lie to friends and family. We couldn’t tell anyone. We had our own room in the Guardian offices, complete with a cover story of why we were there.”
Davies’s book, Flat Earth News, was published in 2008 and describes the pressures on journalists today which often results in the ‘churnalism’ of press releases.
Davies told the students: “Because we are short of resources lots of news desks and reporters churn out unchecked stories.
“You’re training to get into an industry that is clearly dying. But it is happening at the same time as the journalism itself is really exciting.”
City College Brighton and Hove journalism student Georgie Newman, 23, from Guildford, said: “His accounts of the clandestine meetings with Assange were really exciting. Who knew journalism could be so fun?”