The Purgatory Room Journalism Remains Terminally Trapped in, Until it Re-Boots itself.

Help us, comes the cries from beyond the panel. But it’s a false one because in practice they resist any help given. It’s bad enough false information is promoted not from designated criminals, but elected leaders. It’s catastrophic when it’s passed on by professional journalists.

And as you read this metaphorically there are thousands behind this panel knowing or unwittingly driving the world’s information systems, overseen by facinorous figures.

Now this isn’t to blame all journalists; some get where we are. Remember when S.V. Dáte asked President Trump whether he regretted all the lies he’s said after three years. Amazingly, S.V. Dáte became the news for merely asking this question.

However, a sizeable number don’t see history at play. You could almost pardon their lack of wherewithall peddling coprophagic political bile. This “getting it” isn’t merely an act of conscious questioning lies, it’s much deeper.

Liken it if you please to the forth wall of cinema when the lens pulls back to reveal the detritus and surroundings of a superbly presented scene in camera. Cinema, indeed has a lot to do with the solution.

The world is in DEFCON 5, nuclearised language unleashed. Yet several journalism institutions don’t yet seem to mind, recognise or countenance what strategically needs doing. Some did set up fact-checking arms, and whilst they serve a purpose, what good were they if the facts didn’t matter? I’ll let 19 year old tumblemaiadryer express that point eloquently.

As a measure of what’s happening let’s go to the 1930s, because the techniques used by propagandists and the third reich should not have passed then, but you could look to a media still finding its feet for reasons why it worked.

Television news wasn’t even invented. Journalism had a deference about it, at times. Scholarship was burgeoning, but culture and psychology were subject you wouldn’t find on journalism syllables.

Propagandists actively turned theory of the mind into working practices, whilst journalists either blithely ignored, didn’t understand, were conflicted or felt the implicit was best left for psychologists or this new discipline of filmmakers.

In her biography, the BBC’s leading news figures Grace Wyndham Goldie made her views about cinema obvious. Cinema’s embrace of symbolism and the implicit is not what news is about. I’d say she was right for this new medium, but what she and many didn’t understand is you couldn’t take a language from cinema, such as the close up and wide shot and completely strip it off its many meanings. Years later it’s part of the problem.

Back in the early 1900s Gustav Le Bon, a French Doctor turned psychologist made an important contribution to society, uncovering how crowds work published in his book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

Take people that didn’t know each other who gather, and quite quickly through rumour you could sow a seed for collective dissent with the group acting as one collective voice. Right-minded people could do the most heinous things as a crowd.

Hitler, the Reich’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and Sigmund Freud were amongst a large swathe of people to take note, studying Le Bon.

Repeat something enough and it can morph into a belief; doesn’t mean it’s true, but it will upside truth. Trump’s Senior White adviser Kellyanne Conway told journalists an alternative reality could becomes a reality. Many correspondents gasped with incredulity. Psychologist and historians scratched their heads: this is new?

Journalism, understandably is a broad church with no hippocratic oath meaning anyone with any ideology can practice journalism. Imagine being a doctor whose raison d’être was to kill people — it is wholly anathema to medicine. Yet differing ideologies particularly amongst newspaper proprietors meant some were appeased by the ideology of Nazism, but what about those practising objective journalism?

The “what is news?” was being torched by those that had figured out this binding construct that news had wrapped itself in. Strange that because that self-belief about what constituted news and how to practice it, never mind it materialised over 200 years, had barely in its newly reformed 20th century guise had time to bed down. Yet today we treat the mechanics of news making as sacrosanct and immutable.

So, if a ranking figure in the 1930s does something odd, or even makes an announcement journalism’s practice appears obliged to cover it. This may have been the framework back in the 1930s, but it’s the granite principle now, and the result is populist politicians continually game the press. Journalism repeatedly stenographs the words of politicians, such as WMDs, 40-odd minute strike from Iraq to the UK, and liberation was nothing to do with oil fields the West had sought for decades. Yes some journalists could be skeptical in their line of questioning, but in psychological terms repetition of the malfeasant message worked..

Today, other psycho ware fare strategies guide journalism into purgatory. Don a hardhat one day and visit a building site, grab a safety visor the next and glare at a test tube. All of these give you a platform and unerringly draw journalists to ask ‘journalistic questions’ that invariably favour the bad message.

The 1930s were a rich oasis for the development of psychology as documented in Adam Curtis’ insightful series Century of Self featuring Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays. What was being developed apprised by marketers, businesses and politicians could not be undone or unseen. Bernays took his understanding of the human mind from wars, commerce and then politics, acknowledging all along how stupid people were.

His methods and that of Le Bon could only be improved upon, to ride pillion with television news when it was devised in the late 1940s. It was all too simple. Show people an event, report, and ask tough questions, but there was a tacit understanding that at least even if an interviewee was telling lies there were consequences for exposing it. Hence the downfall of Nixon in the Watergate scandal. The shape and morality of wrong doing was a corrective meter.

Not any more. There’s been a teutonic shift that requires a DEFCON plus (six).

What if politicians and leaders could brazenly lie and knowingly realise there’s no punitive consequence they could suffer? That they could cognitive overload your rationale to think by literally extolling silly rhymes. What if the massive loss of life was merely a callous trade off for an individual’s gain?

What if the status quo of leaders on this side of the wall could empirically prove to journalists on the other that no one cares.

What if people in public office could flaunt the law with no care of the consequences?

And what if journalism proves generally toothless in this new dispensation?

Back to school?

And why not. Journalism appears one of the few professions that negates any re-training unless its linked to a tech gadget. But this onslaught comes from the suppleness of language, and the grist of the mind.

Journalism should be holding summits about this egregious threat and the best minds in psychology and behavioural science educating a new generation of journalists of the threats.

Journalism shouldn’t be afraid of calling out journalism’s 4th wall, of their own use of meta language to eke out answers to those they face.They should be made more aware of the histories of propaganda and case studies of how populations are gaslit.

In the 1940s the Western world set about creating a new form of journalism in television. In 2021, a new form of television/ video journalism deserves to be created. One that’s fit for its time. That takes the workable principles of old combined with thinking anew.

If it did, remarkably it would find itself relying on a style that was swiftly abandoned by Wyndam Goldie and that would be cinema. Recently, I’ve presented to TV journalists at TV2 Denmark, India’s Facebook Acceleration programme and Russian TV makers and scholars about this archetypal form.

Cinema journalism isn’t just an explicit blend of two fields, but one that asks a question, how using the power of film where each frame matters, can you make sense of what’s said. Like art it’s archetypal but not stereotypical. It’s a storytelling that relies on the psychology of imagery and language. At the very least its approach was based on crowd and group think. And what’s more, it helps understand how psychology has railroaded rational thinking.

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.