21 September 2007

Is the media to blame?

This is a question most often found in the mainstream media. Its very presence is designed to testify to their openness, when it just indicates self-absorption. It is always answered in the negative because no journalist will drink with any other journalist who answers it any other way.

Insofar as this takes us anywhere, it takes us to David James. He used to be a journalist, now he just writes stuff for the papers.

Journalists used to tell you about things that most people couldn't find out for themselves.

Now that most people can find things out, journalists have a role in helping readers navigate the ocean of information out there.

Alternatively, journalists can spend their employers' time and space moaning about the apparent disconnect between what gets you respected as a journalist and what people would read if they have the choice.

Which, of course, they do. Which of course, they used not to when David James and I were lads and people had nothing to read other than whatever half-baked crap one could jibber down a phone line while half-pissed at 4pm every day.

Like short paragraphs.

Young people today and their creative writing courses, I just don't know.

As there are more readers/ listeners/ viewers than there are journalists, and as the former pay the wages of the latter and not the other way around, here are five suggestions both as valid and as funny as anything you might find from David James:

1. Ask a spokesman.

Spokesmen know everything. If you want to know about the government, ask a government spokesman - or failing that, a spokesperson. They've got lots of them. They're more likely to return your call if you went to school with them, or if they used to be a journalist and take pity on you. Once you've gotten a twenty-word quote from a spokesperson, the hard work is done. No further investigation is required: only old-school journos or bloggers do that stuff.

2. Journalist discovers he is not much of anything.

Journalist Jason Journalist was in his cups at the Journalists' Club. "When I was a political journalist I thought I could make or break governments, swaying the popular mood this way or that with my insightful prose", he said. "Then I thought I was a theatre reviewer, lauding some otherwise pointless politician who could recycle a nasty remark that was first uttered in Westminster or Washington in the '60s". Confronted with the idea that all his breathless intrigues on the imminent Howard-Costello challenge was a waste of everyone's time (including that of Howard and Costello), Jason said, "hey, Peter Costello's press secretary bought me lunch".

3. Now we have to do our own legwork

If paparazzi are going to shoot themselves, how are we journalists supposed to find out what's going on? To be a proper journalist, you have to sit at a desk with a computer, and phone a spokesperson or two. Bloggers don't even phone spokespeople, that's why we sneer at them. Who's going to get the big stories, you know: ACTRESS WEARS DRESS, SMILES, the sort of thing that my bosses like to print to cross-promote the new movie that my boss's other company has made.

4. Better to print a lame story than an interesting one

"The media is full of whinges about plane flights", said Eddie Editor. "People who are in planes whinge, people who are on the ground underneath planes whinge, people who own airlines and airports whinge - where there's whingeing, there's a story, right? Doesn't matter what the whinging is about, or that there's no new angle on the story. In my experience as a journalist, you just run the same old story over and over, and people will never regard you as irrelevant."

Eddie Editor is a media legend who has worked for all capital city broadsheets and tabloids and has driven readership downwards by at least 20% everywhere he's worked. He teaches Journalism Studies at the University. If you want to know anything about news, you ask Eddie. It's one of them laws I think.

5. Or, you could read the wire services

Wire services do the work so journalists don't have to. If they summarise a finding, you don't have to seek out the original document - just summarise the summary to the point of parody. If there's a disease that has a 90% chance of death, and some new treatment will cut that to 80%, make sure you write it up as a cure. Then, if some do-gooder writes in and complains, that's two days' stories for the price of one.

The mainstream media. We're good, just ask us.


  1. Good post as usual Andrew. You haven't explicitly mentioned their laziness with the Internet really encouraging to further heights of it. The laziest of them all is Matt Price ( your hero) who encourages his readers on to " who's the smelliest politician's bum' competitions rather than discuss policy.

  2. Thanks Bill - one post praising Price doesn't make him my 'hero'. I'll wait for Annabel Crabb to write something worth reading then I'll praise her, but something tells me it will take a while ... could I urge you to click the "press gallery groupthink" label, as I think Price and Crabb are willing dupes of a much larger problem.

    As far as the internet goes, I'm less concerned about the source of the information than the quality, and the ability to interrogate it.