Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What is happening to journalism?

When I started in journalism 20 years ago, it was for idealistic reasons. Coming from the world of banking, some might say how could it be for anything else? Next stop must be an MP with an estate agency  business.
The aims of journalism in those days was very much to educate, inform and entertain. I was inspired to the writing world by the likes of journalists John Pilger and Alexander Cockburn. The writings of Noam Chomsky opened new windows. When I crossed  the divide into journalism it was with the aim of to quote the old phrase comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Over the years to a large degree I think it has been possible to carry out that mission. There were pieces on the effects of landmines and the miscarriage of justice cases like the East Ham II and Bridgewater Four.  The lot of ex-soldiers suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Irish prisoners dying in British jails. More recently the concept of a living wage and economic justice in the workplace.

There are though growing concerns as to what is happening with journalism. During the past two decades, the value of journalism and particularly journalists has decreased. At a local level, newspapers that used to be produced by a team of people are now being put together by a couple of overworked and underpaid journalists.

The advent of the internet and accountants taking over the running of publications has created a perfect storm that has not been good for journalism. It has encouraged an attitude amongst managers that there is no need to leave the desk and go out of the office for stories. All can be attained from the internet, so no need to go out.
This point was well illustrated by former Independent journalist Barry Clements, who recalled 25 years ago how the news editor would come into the news room at lunch time and if there was anyone there ask why they weren't out looking for stories and making contacts. Today, the news editor would ask where someone had gone if they were missing from the office.
Is there any other profession in the land where having put a proposal to do some work to someone, the response comes back we don't pay or we don't pay much - try that one next time on your plummer when he or she comes to do a job? I recently did a piece for the British Journalism Review on the growing trend among publications to pay less than they have been doing in the past - less in some cases than they did 10 years ago.
This tendency stretches from the national newspapers to the trade press, television and radio. Ironically, journalism is becoming a rich person's pursuit because it is rapidly moving toward a situation where a person has to have money or the support of a partner on a decent wage to make it a viable trade at all.
At the same time the public relations industry which is mostly concerned with afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable continues to grow. PRs are paid more and more, often to keep the truth away from the public. The concern is all about putting out good news on their clients. And as real journalism becomes more and more starved of resources so perversely the dependency on PR grows.
This dichotomy is clear at local newspaper level. It is now a well trod path from badly paid journalist on a local paper to well paid press officer in local council offices or working on the council's own paper. All of this though is bad for democracy and the holding to account of those in power. Under resourcing has seen the extinction of things like local paper court and council meeting reporting.
So where will it all end up? The job of investigative journalism certainly needs some supporting in the future. It is under threat as never before, due to the imposition of cuts on resources and a one sided focus on entertainment in media generally. A way needs to be found to support serious journalism and those who practice that art - democracy requires no less. For the moment though it is a case of plugging away, seeking continually to afflict that growing band of the extremely comfortable. 

No comments:

Post a Comment