Pensive. That’s probably the best way to describe right now. Thinking about all sorts of things. Inquiring. Questioning. Putting out trailers and seeing what they drag back.
One area of interest – how could it not be – is the nature of this thing that I do: “journalism”. So if I don’t get distracted over the next few days, there is a lot I want to get down about it.
Journalism is definitely problematic. Since Leveson, there have been strenuous calls for it to be “reformed” – which is easy: the calling for bit. And precious few constructive proposals that I can see, to date, for how to reform it.
Sure: tinkering around the edges. A revamped PCC with teeth. But that’s after the event, mostly: and doesn’t address the fundamental. Is journalism, as she exists in early 21st century Britain, turned from slut – which she ever was – into something far darker. Hmmm: predator, I guess, would extend that metaphor aptly.
The essence of journalism
Let’s start with what I think it is about – and therefore what it is not. Someone today posted a comment about journalism, to the effect that a journalist had failed to do their “research” properly. This from someone who I quite respect as an academic researcher.
To which my instant was: huh? What’s research got to do with it. Journalism…”news”…is about presenting “stories”. And yes: let’s pause for the easy jibe there about how we knew it was all made up.
Its not. But the key focus of journalism is to present in short, easy to digest, instant gobbets material that will both entertain (don’t lose sight of that word!) and inform.
Journalists, in that scenario fulfil a bastard role: part court jester, part messenger. Note. I don’t put us up there with the top notchers: the wizards and the grand high anythings. We’re low on the food chain, processing the facts we can grab, quickly, efficiently, into a framework that makes some small sense of everyday events to our readers.
The role of expertise
For a long time I resisted the appellation “journalist”, preferring “writer” instead. To be honest, I still do, but since there are some things I do that are quite clearly journalistic in nature, I can’t wholly deny it. Still, the big question is about the role and function of journalistic “stories” and whether they can ever be held to the same levels of account as, say, academic research.
Oh: I bet some out there would like to demand that. I mean: how DARE someone write about a subject who isn’t absolutely intimate with it. Who hasn’t, well, studied it every which way to the point where she could happily put it forward as their Mastermind specialist topic and score 15 points.
To which I’d say: be careful what you wish for. I was educated in what many would now call a “good school”: was used to the fact that in most subjects, those who taught us also held decent degrees in that topic.
Therefore I was quite shocked, when first my daughter found her way into secondary school, to discover that was exception rather than rule. That actually, teachers followed all manner of protocols and lesson plans such that it was quite possible for someone with but cursory knowledge of a subject to teach it to at least GCSE – sometimes beyond.
Is that, too, shocking? Should we, as society, aim for a world in which only “experts” in a topic were allowed to teach it? Possibly. But that’s not where we are.
Journalism is NOT about providing neat academic discourse on a subject. End of.
Its about going from zero to 90 on a topic in minutes: digesting (skimming!) as I have done, a 200-page document and delivering a 500 word précis of key points from it in half an hour.
The real big issue
That’s the way news works…what, at some level, the public seems to demand. Which really pushes us back to some much bigger questions: just ’cause the public wants it, should they get it?
And if some of those, now, most critical of the press were to put their hand up for an alternative, what would it be? Because from where I am sat, I don’t believe that you can change the essential nature of what news is without near as dammit banning newspapers: requiring every article to be a feature; and that, while some might genuinely welcome it, feels to me like a step too far.