Posted by: J M | July 14, 2011

J is for journalism

This week has been another tough week to be a journalist or involved in editorial in any way. In the wake of the closure of the News of the World, the uncovering of increasingly grotesque dealings and the general chaos in Parliament over what to do about it all, journalists are now proudly portrayed as 2011’s version of the “greedy City bankers”. It’s apparently irrelevant that fantasists like Johann Hari and phone hackers are a very small minority; as far as ‘the public’ are concerned, all journalists – even those who write for Tomato Growers’ Weekly – are evil.

It has been an equally tough week or so to be taking part in any social media. Just the other day, I read this in my Facebook news feed:

“So it’s official now- 
The Press: Cunts. (Including the Guardian & Indy)
Politicians: Cunts. (Particularly the Conservatives and Labour, but yes, all of them)
The Police: Cunts. (The force as a whole, not every individual lug-head, some of them are just stupid.)”

Oh dear, I thought. I can’t speak for the police and politicians, as I’m not one, but I have worked on a national newspaper and in broadcasting, so I felt compelled to reply, very simply, that journalists were not cunts. In retrospect, I truly wish I hadn’t bothered or, at the very most, left my response at that. Sadly, my response gave rise to other, more passionate responses, and before I knew it I was embroiled in a Facebook slanging match. It has taught me such a valuable lesson that I am going to reproduce most of it here, as a stark reminder never to do it again.

Me, is, well, me. OP is the original poster of the status update (a friend I have known for almost a decade) and Mr X is someone I’ve never heard of or met before, but is a friend of my friend, it would appear. Let’s start from the reply which preceded, and indeed instigated, my first post:

Mr X: Nicely put my friend … although if we were to produce merchandise to spread the word I feel the above statement is too wordy! Something like ‘Journalists, Cops & Politicians are a bunch a Cunts’ would lend itself better to t-shirt prints, kids pencil cases and coffee mugs!

Me: Hello. Journalists are not cunts. Thank you.

Mr X: Hello, as a father myself I would say digging up medical info on a sick child is as low as it gets … you don’t get more cunt than that! If this is deemed acceptable to get a story then a more vile word is needed to describe the cretins! Saying that, we hear about this crap from the same people who are behind the allegations so who knows what’s true, best just to take all journalism with a pinch of salt … after all … they are only ‘following orders’. Thank you!

The “as a father” argument is one I just can’t get behind. The idea that being a parent makes your opinion or disgust any more valid is something I find distasteful. It’s just emotive bullshit.

Me: I am in no way condoning any illegal activity, but saying all journalists are cunts is like saying that all people who post reactionary, sweeping comments on Facebook are utter morons – but we know that not to be true, right?

OP: I dont think anyone said all journalists are cunts (they kind of did though, in my view). But anyway, the press are by far the worst of the 3. Without real journalism we cant have a real democracy and nothing gets done in the interests of the people. Instead we get hundreds of thousands of deaths across the world, payed for by us, which could have been avoided (one example among many – imagine if the papers had not meekly supported the government line on WMD in Iraq and had actually done some er, journalism)

Me: Long answer: Without the word ‘some’ to quantify the statement, “journalists are cunts” means “all journalists are cunts”. The accused are a tiny minority of tabloid journalists and do not represent the industry. 

I really regret the pedantry of that last one one. Ah well. It’s done now.

Me: Short answer: shut up or I’ll hack you.

This was an attempt to bring the debate back on the side of humour. It failed spectacularly, as you’ll see.

Mr X: Journalists write about people, upsetting them in the process, chastising children who wear hooded tops, using the term ‘chav’ as a cloak to socially bash those less fortunate than themselves. Now they are the scumbags of the moment they should stand up … be men or women … and take it on the chin! If they can’t then who are they to attack others? Nobody said ‘all’ journos are cunts … but if people think that is the case then no one will change their mind … especially not the journalists!

More emotive hand-wringing. Nobody is condoning the above acts, but a very small number of journalists commit them.

Me: Again, Mr X, you are talking about a small minority of journalists. And within that small minority, an even tinier one which consists of unscrupulous tabloid hacks. If you think journalists are bad, take a look at any national paper online and have a look at the comments underneath from the dear readers. That’s where you’ll find the real bile you talk about. Journalists don’t set the agenda; they follow their readers’ lead. You are what you hate.

OP: I’m not just talking about unscrupulous acts such as phone hacking. I’m talking about the limp wristedness of the entire journalistic profession- including the bbc and other tv sources. They *should* be setting the agenda- but they don’t. They let business, governments and bile-filled readers do it for them. 

Me: You misunderstand (I suspect wilfully) the function of newspapers and journalism. It is journalism’s responsibility to report on and hold a mirror up to society, not to shape it. I wouldn’t dream of telling you how to do your job or what its purpose is – do me, and others, the same courtesy.

I should definitely, definitely, definitely left it there. The first half was a totally true statement. The second half I probably should have left out.

OP: Lost me there. I thought it was to tell the news a honestly as possible – not the easy to hear/ friendly to government/ business news. But as should be more commonly remembered, it’s the job of the press to sell their product. As many units of it as possible, at the cheapest possible cost. Most other industries are honest about that, but the press still clings on to this (knowingly false) image of public duty, playing at *balance*, and that’s what riles -it’s total and utter bull shite. By the way, if a plumber leaves a leaky pipe in your kitchen do you tell him “how to do his job” or ignore it?

I have cut out some earlier stuff OP wrote (as I assumed he was joking) about being a Guardian journalist was easy as it involved naught but churning agency copy, but it was the above reponse and the comments I’ve edited out which led me down this very dark path:

Me: I think you must have had a bump to the head. I shall now start reporting this as fact. And your plumber analogy is as leaky as your figurative pipe. I’d love to continue this battle of wits, but clearly you’re unarmed. Goodnight. x 

I really regret this one, too. It served no purpose other than a thinly-veiled attempt to pat him on the head and tell him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Not my best work, really. I was also setting myself up beautifully for the riposte:

OP: Hows about i arm myself with some recent research? UK broadsheet newspapers: At least 80% of stories are re-written (& not fact checked) copy from news wire & PR. (Source: Cardiff University – http://en.wikipedia.org/wi ki/Churnalism). Analogy comparison: We want & pay for investigative journalism/ truth (fixed pipe) – we don’t get it (leaky pipe). P.S. good way to tell when you’re winning an argument – the other side starts getting all shirty & personal. 

I suppose I deserve that one, but it appeared to me that OP’s frustration was borne out of a complete misunderstanding of what the press is for and how it operates. I decided it was for the best for me to bow out of the public debate here, especially given that Mr X then left a witless attempt to backtrack on his “cunts” stance, using the standard internet defence of it ‘being a joke all along’. Instead, I sent the OP a message to his inbox:

Sadly, OP, everything comes down to money. Given the advent of rolling news and free online news outlets, newspapers have struggled for revenue for some time. Only the NOTW and The Sun were/are truly profitable. Did you know that swivel-eyed bastard Murdoch kept the Times alive by siphoning off profits from the NOTW? It would have folded years ago. Perhaps he should have let it do so. 

Investment in journalism is poor: sub-editors are losing their jobs due to financial issues and the pressure of producing enough online content for the search engines to notice you has meant that agency copy is used more and more – at the behest of those wanting to make a profit, the newspaper owners and shareholders. A lot of it *is* subbed – I know this first-hand – but the turnaround needs to be quick and subs have targets to hit every day, and they’re paid fuck all and have nothing to do with budget cuts or lack of investment. Agency copy is really, really terrible; you wouldn’t believe how much it is cleaned up before a reader’s eyes hit it.

You raise an interesting point about ‘the truth’. Newspapers only report things in the style their readers want to read it. For example, take Prime Minister’s Question Time. It’s likely that the Mirror will report that Miliband absolutely carpeted Cameron, yet the Sun will report that Cameron shrugged Miliband off and gave him a beasting himself. Which one is right? Which one is the truth? It’s a tricky one. There is only one truth, but many versions, which all depend on the agenda or prejudices of the observer, be they first-hand or reading about it in a newspaper. You say that newspapers should ‘set the agenda’, but that’s what Murdoch has been trying to do for 40 years, and I think we can all agree that he is a piece of shit. Setting the agenda does not equal reporting the truth. If every newspaper reported events exactly as they happened, readers wouldn’t read them and every newspaper would die until one was left. Then how would you know what was a ‘true’ version of events without another newspaper voice to compare it with?

For every lying twat like [well-known journalist], or every phone hacking piece of shit at the NOTW, there are 100 honest journalists performing to tight timelines, budgetary pressures and, most importantly, a demanding audience in search of speedy gratification.

And that, OP, is why journalists aren’t cunts.”

Am I right? Am I wrong? Or am I somewhere in between, like most of us? Either way, I should have left well enough alone. Nobody wins in an internet argument, let alone one as futile as this.

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Responses

  1. Your opponent’s manner displays many of the features of the sort of tabloid hack he criticises. For instance, the “as a father” move is precisely the sort of movev bad journalism endorses: a parent who, has, say, lost a child is suddenly treated as an expert in matters they know little or nothing about.


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