Don’t worry, I totally get the irony of talking about the degradation of journalism into opinion pieces and personal platforms for writer’s grievances in a piece that is primarily my opinion, and not necessarily sourced from anywhere.
I studied as as a journalist and there were certain things that were great about the whole idea that I no longer see being practiced. You used to use the inverted triangle as a means of constructing the story so that all the salient data was early in the article. You used the impersonal voice and never the “I” to tell the story because the facts were more important than what you thought about it, and you used sources to strengthen your point, or to just report the facts.
Journalists get a bad rap now, and people like Brian Williams do little to lessen the bad PR. Fox News very often drifts away from fact into opinion and what amounts to very lazy journalism.
Journalists used to be heroes – Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Lois Lane in the fictional world, but they also had real world counterparts. Edward D. Murrow and his integrity in the McCarthy era, a time when being honest was not easy if you didn’t agree with the status quo, was an act of bravery. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, of All The President’s Men, helped uncover one of the biggest scandals in American History. David Frost as he went up against Richard Nixon. These guys were admirable.
When a whole profession has such bad PR what could possibly be the reason? Well, there is a lack of reality underpinning what they are selling. When the debate fueled by newspaper articles is just a couple of talking heads bouncing ideas back and forth and there is no anchor to reality (the thing quotes and facts and fact checkers used to put there) then how can anything they say be deemed any more valid than what your average joe in the street says?
The machinery behind Williams was supposed to prevent things like this from happening, but not only did he deal in mistruth, his network majorly dropped the ball in not following the trail to its end and verifying the facts.
Not every journalist is as idealistic as those written by Aaron Sorkin in The Newsroom, but neither are they all muck-rakers like the hacks who work for the red-tops.
Laurie Penny is an inspiration who I discovered through Warren Ellis, writer of one of the most iconic modern fictional journalists out there – Spider Jerusalem. Jerusalem has facts, but is modeled after Hunter S. Thompson, so has more than a liberal dose of personal opinion thrown into the mix. Penny has something of a similar bite to her style.
Journalists getting killed in the news seems a world away from what you read in most paper these days. Embedded reporters still exist, but they are no way near as common. Citizen Journalism has some merits, but there is a difference between someone who has an opinion and someone who knows how to analyze the facts and present you with an enlightening article.
A lot of the news is bad news. With D Notices and other government legislation designed to reign in free speech, and the push of advertisers in papers to sell a certain narrative about what is going on in the world being a journalist with any degree of integrity at all is going to be hard.
What would be the best way to turn it around as far as the profession is concerned? Well, how about some professionalism. Before you pronounce old journalism dead, you have to have some kind of viable alternative that actually informs and educates the people about what is going on in the world. Pillory the liars, but celebrate the truth-tellers and the whistle-blowers and the honest men who are willing to stand up and tell us the truth … not dress it up with so much fanciful window dressing that people couldn’t see the truth if they dug through ten miles of BS.
You could advertise with honesty, and you could promote that. Who knows, you could even try telling the world about something nice once in a while? I am not advocating shooting the messenger, but if the messenger only spreads bad news and never has anything good to say, and you know from stepping out in the world that it isn’t all going to hell in a hand-basket, then how can you credit them at all?
We should move away from constant opinion – stop adding to the noise, and all the puff pieces out there, and we should start promoting a return to the old values … being a source of real news and actual truth; not opinion.