Thursday, December 08, 2011

Section of Journalism failing; how do we knowledge up

Look deeper
Navel gazing is something journalism doesn't do in public. Everyone else gets the deserving stake: lawyers, bankers, real estate, but you're be hard pressed to see a piece of wood protruding from journalism.

Even the IPC (print) its regulatory body shies away from doing the deed.

No, tell a lie, we have seen glimpses of it. It's cyclic, but they manifest themselves as schadenfreude or at worst meek apologies. Thank goodness for phrases such as :"keeping your eye of the ball". Make a mistake, that's alright then.

Recently, maladroit journalists from the News of the World got zeroed. Years back it was the NYT and the Blair scandal. And ever so often the BBC gets a kipper slap - that's a blood sport.

But there's something more damning in which journalism reluctantly bares its soul. You heard it at its loudest during the Bloggers versus real journalists debates in town halls mid-2000. Thankfully that's now passe.

However I'm prompted by this Evening Standard piece. In an enlightening article, BBC Newsnight's eruditely solid journalist Paul Mason touched on how he came to know that the economy,  following Lehman's and Fannie Mae going breasts up (English idiom), was doomed.

And that reminded me, if a Medicine fails they stand before council and policy wonks, if banking goes Darth Vader, we'd like to think they'd better get their toothbrush ready, but when journalism fails, it's a minor blip and we're back to normal.

Journalism on Trial
Can someone make a programme in which they put journalism in the dock for gross negligence? Because if it's the job of the fourth estate to monitor all else, it failed during the Euro crisis, during the over lending, is failing at climate change and is doing a depressing job explaining how politics and economics is running on empty.

Of course it depends what you mean by journalism? Witnesses of the first draft, they observe, react and then let the populace make up their minds. All that's well and good except for instance when I was completing a course at the LSE in Global Finance, I was told printing money was the equivalent of murder.

Yet still Economic reporters treat quantitative easing as if it were a euphemism for walking the dog; it's normal. Mason is right. Politics is bust. This old world order needs reforming.

One of the required reading books in 1995 was Around the World on a Trillion Dollars a Day: How Rebel Currency Trade by Gregory J Millman. No more financial packages brokers from the far east pleaded to the Americans at one stage.

Obviously this whole post has a scent of the supercilious about it. You can't put journalism on trial. It's not monolithic and is owned by no one. And as the argument goes, guns don't kill its people. It's not journalism that's losing it, it's the people. And there are brilliant journalists at work.

Books a plenty have been written about journalism, based on intellectual theories growing up into practical markers and vice versa. In the 1980-90s friends of mine, black and Asian, knew the journalism people had got it woefully wrong surveying markedly under employed newsrooms. That was painful.

Today such ideology in a pluralistic and meritocratic society is little heard of. But the question needs to be entertained. Clearly unequivocal capitalism is looking forlorn. Socialism also has it soft fleshy underbelly looking way vulnerable.

When you look at journalism over large chunks of history, you begin to see how it was a work in progress.  As journalist Andrew Marr states in his page turner, My Trade, "Journalists are not taught what news is. We learn by copying".

It's done so from Defoe in the 1700s, who combated the charlatans who made up news. Defoe "believed in going and seeing with his own eyes" writes Marr, through to the rise of the modern reporter and great names such as Hugh Cudlipp.

Ever so often, a figure such as Stephen Glover, a former Editor strikes out at the industry. Cited in My Trade, Glover says, "there are many serious voices in the broadsheets, but they exist alongside ever more lavish coverage of celebrities and daft pieces about animals".

Wall to wall celebrity news you'll find from looking back on the news is a recent invention.

Work in Progress
So 2011, and despite the detonation of Twitter ( Arab Springs), Facebook et al are we still bound by top down news agenda. Has the work in progress stopped? Is this it? Did we reach the fundamentals, non negotiables, in the 1950s?  Note Twitter is at its more potent by Generation Kup when used without recourse to the structures of traditional journalism.

And if journalism can't get to understand issues before they atrophy in front of our eyes, are we being served?  Is journalism doing its bit? That's what Leonard Witts asked in his Restoring the Trust Conference I spoke at in 2005.

Course it is. If they write and you do nothing about it, that's not journalism's fault. The web and social networks have changed journalism irrevocably, or have they? A study by Goldsmith College last year stated the contrary.

Theories of news remain, its multi philosophy needs more Kuhning.  Witness how South Africa's legislators have wounded journalism badly.

The new tools we  have will likely continue to grow. Question is do we slot them into existing frameworks of journalism or seek to build new ones and what then are systemised modules for teaching journalism to a new generation?

Artistry dear boy, someone said to me.

Post script: I interviewed a Top TV bod some weeks ago. His comments to me were TV News is back. Mmmm

David publishes at