Yet another self-serving piece on the state of journalism. You can’t move for toffee without someone, a self-styled scion writing about what’s wrong with journalism and how to fix it in the future e.g. 2020— as if journalism like engineering, medicine, or whatever is a uniform, unified profession. It isn’t. They should stop pretending.
Journalism, like history, is cursed by the victor syndrome. We hear from, or read about those we decide are powerful via their peers or possess legacies as proof of their importance e.g. Daily Mail. Some journalists we examine and marvel at their accomplishments e.g. Ed Murrow and often their humility, but even they sometimes see in front of them the last curtain call.
We generally trust the victors. It’s the reason why NBC or the BBC is is well known, but not an extraordinary experiment in the UK in 1994, where like the crew in Lord of the Flies, 30 youngsters, average age 24 years, took over new journalism. They were recruited from 3000 applicants and with a team of managers and consultants pioneered dramatic changes to UK journalism launching a cable new station, Channel One TV, which would upend many of journalism’s characteristics. For instance they created solo journalists to film, report, edit, and produce and reporters, not editors decided on what story to run and how. The videojournalism practice was cherry picked by mainstream before they killed off the station through questionable competition.
Influential people around a period and time create ideas that crystalise into conventions and which thereon are rarely questioned, at least in what we refer to within mainstream or traditional media. What was good in the 1950s is presumably equally good now. Hence journalists and the public frame fixed notions of what we believe journalism should be. The sleight is simple. You introduce an approach for how media should be consumed. This becomes a defacto rule and generations onwards becomes sacred, or heresy if questioned.
In the 1950s television was born, and midwiffed into a style and approach, which persists today. Balance, objectivity, impartiality and fairness, though complex then was easily by 1950s standards resolvable. Let one person say something and another say something opposite. In 2000 it gave climate deniers the upper hand when the vast science was against them.
Meanwhile, academics spend an amazon-forest worth of papers questioning these traditional and contemporary practices, and even then there’s no guarantee of a universal consensus, but, hey academics don’t run media outlets, where the bottom line draws a line.
Pre-Internet days, in spite of journalism’s many problems which led to execs attending annual events like Barelona’s News World, there was a tacit understanding amongst selected and limited networks. Whatever the barrage of opinion outside journalism’s club, journalism was in rude health. Margins of profits would exceed 30% of companies’ books. Why change a winning formula?
Journalism’s feeder network was (still is?) white, predominately male, and from top national universities. Hence whatever your perspective was, from comprehensive school as a woman who was black it mattered little, if your sole raison detre was to join the club. Mansplaining could tell you about the social ills and victimisation in your neighbourhood because of better upbringing.
Being black wasn’t and isn’t the answer, but holding different diverse views to the conventional position, because of where you’re from and an empathy of the people and community, provides a deeper and greater understanding of complex problems you should understand. In To Sleep with Anger directed by Charles Burnett preserved in the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” a simple broom carries way more cultural significance in this black household.
In the 1990s the Metropolitan police were provided with a new understanding by consultants of what it meant when a black teenager failed to look a policeman squarely in the face.
Somehow journalism became entrusted as the sword of truth (it’s literally quoted as) taking on wars against adversaries used to using advanced weapons, psychological ones. Bt just as history is too important to be left to historians, the same of journalism could be said of journalists. This does not instill hope and keep the tills running. But it’s transparency we need. Honest too, if there is such a thing.
The rich, influential or powerful, how did they get to become our mouth pieces? And what do we mean by truth? Mine ? Yours? Right wingers? Left wingers? Journalism at its base, principle foundations, its core is less about learning craft skills taught in universities, but about one’s philosophy. A direct link to who you are as a person, and why you believe what you believe and how and why. It is a psychology of the self. And if that sounds pompous or silly then I take my cue from W. E. B. Du Bois whose works included double consciousness — the internal strife experienced in unaccommodating environments, indeed oppressive. This ought to be taught in journalism. Otherwise, Marshall McLuhan, which is taught, who recognised media’s conventions, but asked whether men could see its art forms. Generally its practitioners are not equipped for this.
I have a vision of journalism, with its warts and all. It revolves around design thinking, and problem solving. It sources several sources and uses A.I. to inform about view points elsewhere. Machine language too provides an illustration of the author’s sentiments as a journalist. It acknowledges there is no unicorn business model. And that however much journalism gazes at the world, for the people in control it cannot gaze at its own naval. It’s job is to seek out an understanding off issues in ways that are ethical (testing word) and from examining our own values.
Victors get to tell their futures, but there is no “the future”, but a future of possibilities. A critical look into the multiverse in storytelling, where empathy and neuroscience count as much as technology — a 1.20" trailer of the forthcoming series in which I catch up with alternative futurists.