Just like countless number of twenty-somethings, Jamie’s dream to study MA journalism, and “make a difference”, his clinching response to the course leader’s question “Why he wants to become a journalist?”, is almost on top of him.
He’s excited, naturally. Awaiting him are general modules on writing, law, social media etc., His time spent at university will be pressed by deadlines, sometimes over burdened with assignments.
If he’s fortunate, a number of industry experts will grace his lecture room extolling their battle days and what’s key to modern day journalism, bookended with, “Well, in our days when there was no social media..”
Jamie will be force-checked by his lecturers on the buzzword at the moment, “Fake News” and told that these are unprecedented time, brought on by populists fermenting un upending of the status quo.
His lecturers may not know to tell him about August 1941, when US Senators Gerald P. Nye, Bennet Clark, and John T Flynn’s drafted resolution 152, and stood behind America First’s doctrine to investigate Hollywood as the dangerous fifth column of the country. TV News had not been invented for republicans to attack as the enemy of the people. Then it was the film industry. The fate of the industry in the 1990s was also under attack by its own publication for telling the same stories.
When he graduates, having played the numbers game early, he’ll find a job — somewhere to exercise those modules. Jamie won’t know this yet, because the industry has been in stasis or refuses to acknowledge its failings. Journalism’s vision in 2018 is more or less the same as 1950, sans social media, despite the world having moved on inexorably. Jamie’s been blindsided, even short-changed.
He’ll write about Brexit and in an attempt to balance his report indulge in the most egregious false balance. He’ll be made to argue his reporting is objective, when there is no such thing and was never a tenant of journalism storytelling in the first place. He’ll react, like almost every journalist in the land to headline grabbing tweets from Boris Johnson, Trump, and a host of populists figures. Professor George Lakoff and Gil Duran say of Trump’s tweets, he:
fuels a parasitic economy in which people compete to ride his digital coattails. Reporters, Democratic politicians, and social media influencers fall for it every time. They obsessively retweet, analyze and attack.
Furthermore, Jamie will perpetuate reporting language and methodologies nominally used to frame issues in different communities to those he’s ever experienced, recycling prejudices so entrenched, like the air we breathe, they’ve become virtually invisible. Stormzy’s donation of two scholarships for black youngsters wanting to go to Cambridge is the only reason the persistence of ethnic student’s denial to Oxbridge is a story. It’s been a story for eons.
Last week when US newspapers fought back at Trump’s attack on them, from within their editorials Marcus Ryder, Chief International Editor of CGTN, noted a glaring omission.
Freedom of the press is meaningless if diverse groups are excluded from being able to exercise that freedom in any meaningful way.
If Jamie’s fortunate, his lecturers would have mentioned something about diversity and its implications. Otherwise, it’s a d-notice — avoid it. Being black, Asian or an ethnic minority makes no difference to reporting schema, than if you’re white, his lecturers will by default tell him. Yet journalism, says the eminent Professor Schudson is a cultural form shaped by literary conventions and social practices developed over time.
His lecturers may not have experience of this. Or it’s dismissed as another liberal fantasy. He’ll be lucky to find anyone from an ethnic minority on his journalism’s lecturing course.
Journalism’s problems in a profession he’s just getting to grasp existed from the very beginning. It’s an imperfect social quasi-science, ratified through interpretation, in which the powerful wield control over others, the very creation of the tabloids I explain here evidences this. But no one has ever told him this. Finley Peter Dunne knew this hence his maxim, comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.
If he could, he should go back and find a course that gave an honest account of journalism and why it might have barely worked during its time, but is untenable now. He would find a programme that teaches cognitivism, behavioral science, emotions, and how the brain works. He should the historicity of modern journalism. He would find a programme that showed the relational link of journalism between the powerful and the meek and how he could make a difference.
But Jamie hasn’t been able to do this and as such the failings of journalism continue unabated. Shorn up and seduced by tech, Jamie deserves to hear a more considered narrative and how this author believes it could rebuild again. If Jamie is reading this, it’s still not too late.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has been a journalist for thirty years and currently heads up the digital interactive storytelling lab at the University of Westminster. He’s an international award winning innovator in journalism.