People are increasingly disinterested in reading newspapers. The newspapers think it’s because the internet delivers the news for free and complain about the lack of editorial standards and control on internet news sites. What they fail to acknowledge is that we don’t read the on line news sites either. What has become disreputable and therefore ignorable is the entire journalistic edifice that has held sway for most of the twentieth century. We don’t care for distortions and inexactitude.
When you read the mainstream media coverage of some subject or event that you happen to know about first hand, it is astonishing how distorted and negligent the reporting of the facts can be. What isn’t said is often astonishing. It’s at that moment of comparing your own firsthand knowledge with what the papers say that you lose all respect for the paper or the journalists that write for it.
If you are close to the process of releasing press releases, you quickly learn that some journalists and editors do nothing more than reproduce these, verbatim, changing only the by line. These press releases are presented as news and reportage, but are, in effect, little more than advertisements, written and promoted by those with a vested financial interest in you believing them to be objective fact. They’re certainly not editorial and make a mockery of the much vaunted role of the press to maintain editorial standards of objectivity and trust.
We don’t want to be spoon fed corporate and government lies, while refusing to address the subject matter we care about most. We don’t like a controlled agenda with prescribed limits to debate and dissent. We want to discuss and learn about what we wish to cover, not what some news editor wishes to present to us as “all the news that’s fit to print”.
Television news is woefully inadequate and people that used to watch it and believe in it now see it as a branch of showbiz – more entertainment than information. Broadcast news has been hopelessly wrong on so many matters, over the years. They’ve lost our trust. The consequence is that the journalists that work for network news programmes or for newspapers are now largely redundant contributors to society. We no longer care to read or hear what they have to say. It’s of no use or relevance.
A great journalist of a bygone age used to teach trainee journalists that news is the stuff that nobody wants you to write about. He held that even your own editor, newspaper or news organisation would oppose you writing about anything that truly was news. What Quixotic, hypocritical advice that was! Here was a man who knew the whole thing to be a rigged game, against truth, encouraging new journalists to take on these vested interests, single handedly, while assuredly sacrificing their own careers to truth – a sacrifice he had singularly, clearly failed to make, in light of his position as a senior journalist teaching young trainees.
News organisations are corporations that exist for the sole purpose of selling things to their readers, listeners and viewers. They are not objective. They are not independent. They are not dispassionate observers reporting exactly what they observe. They can’t be. They make their money either by supporting the government line, or else by selling advertising to corporations. Their role is to deliver the messages their pay masters want them to deliver, to the deceived, credulous masses; an audience they repeatedly promise to serve with reliable and unassailable truth. What a lie that is! Is it any wonder that anything they write about or present is invariably corporatist and statist in nature? If they were to permit their news agenda to stray from positive messages about the companies and governments that fund them, they would be committing commercial suicide and would cease to exist.
Journalists that work for these corrupted organisations who genuinely seek the truth are on a hiding to nothing. Not only does the very edifice they belong to not wish them to stray beyond the permitted range of opinion, but their very career prospects depend upon it. The real agenda of the news organisation is to make money, so the journalists will never be given the time and resources needed to write truthful, insightful, investigative articles that uncover things of any significance. It’s not what the organisation wants them to do, save for giving their credulous and deceived readers, listeners and viewers the believable appearance that this upholding of truth and decency is what they really do. It’s a very thin veneer.
All journalists quickly learn that what they need, more than anything, is access to the places and people where the stories of interest to their audience happen. They learn rapidly that if they write pieces that are critical of those in power, who control access to these people and places, then access privileges will be withdrawn. A journalist without access is no longer able to function as a reporter and can only write opinion pieces. Opinions don’t hold the same weight or credibility as fact-based reportage does, even though the reportage we are told to trust most is nothing of the sort. We’ve been sold a pup, but in believing in the myth of objective, fact-based reporting, journalists that genuinely try to do any are rapidly excluded from sources of real information and are hence relegated to mere punditry in the minds of the public. That’s a supreme irony. Our credulity as news consumers punishes journalists that sincerely try to tell us the truth.
Self-censorship or holding views, by default or inclination, that are already in line with the world view that the corporations and governments wish to push into the minds of the public becomes the means of survival and selection, as a journalist. They don’t want to deal with the angry letters, the hate campaigns, the character assassinations, the undermining of their credibility and the organised and covert operations mounted by public relations companies to assert carefully orchestrated spin, if a journalist happens upon an inconvenient truth and writes about it. The editor will pay for this sin too. It was their job to suppress it.
If journalists are writers and writers consider themselves to be artists, then they must judge themselves against the standards by which all artists do. They need to be true to themselves, authentic, whole-hearted, courageous and willing to embrace and confront their own vulnerability. If they cave in to the forces exerted by the machine in which they work, they cease to be artists and become mere artisans, producing written works of no lasting value or meaning. They become hollowed out humans that know they are not living up to their own ideals. Those that go into journalism are, on average, more highly motivated by ideals than the rest of us. How tragic that, as literary artists, they experience the greatest pressure to betray those ideals. No wonder they are, as a cohort, such heavy drinkers. They fight a daily battle against corruption that is unwinnable from where they sit. Some sell out and spend the rest of their lives in sanctimonious and baroque self-justification about it, but most are simply destroyed by it. New journalist trainees will be along next academic year.
There is more honesty and unvarnished truth to be found in blogs. Of course, bloggers have an agenda. Every human being has a world view, which is the distorting lens through which they express their thoughts. In a blog, I can (at least for the moment) set my own agenda, address the subject matter I wish to discuss, and discuss those subjects in the way I wish to discuss them, to whatever length and depth I wish to go. I am not constrained by the imperatives of advertisers. I am not (currently) under coercion from a government to limit the bounds of my writing. What I choose to address are subjects about art, with a humanist viewpoint and in a way that encourages love and creation. I don’t know how I would fare if I were proposing an alternative form of governance, a new monetary system or a replacement for capitalism. The fact is that we need these new ideas, because the current institutions have clearly failed us. I hope somebody blogs about them. If nobody does, I might have to, as poorly qualified as I may be to do so.
The point is that blogs are currently much more attuned to the concerns of the general populace than is the mainstream media. That spells the end of news organisation as we know them and the journalists that work within them. I wouldn’t want to be a journalist, but if I were one, I would be writing blog articles right now, even if I didn’t publish them. The time for truth is coming. Time is running out for artisan journalists that regurgitate press releases and the party line. Nobody wants to read that anymore. Look to your sales figures for proof.