Reader mail: On the state of journalism

A friend and former reporter from Scotland writes:

Right. I’ve read the post. So how do I put this…

You’re right. And you’re wrong.

Right, inasmuch as the shenanigans highlighted are a sad and troubling sign of the decline of the journalism professionalism.

Wrong, inasmuch as the role of “editor” is no longer one synonymous – or requiring – extensive, practical journalism experience. And it hasn’t been for 30 years or so.

As sheer commercialism has come to dominate the newspaper industry, so has the role of editor become one more attuned to that of departmental manager in a large industrial organisation. He need not necessarily have a nose for news or be capable of noticing the subtle swings in his readership’s attitudes so long as he can deliver a “product” to a budget.

Too, I’ve got to say, having this Mr Mihlar cruise from a thinktank into a media role and then into a public policy position is substantively no different from newer generations of politicians graduating from think tanks to public positions and then to cosy board appointments. Both types of career can be subject to accusations of nest-padding or shilling. How often do we bait our political masters over their lack of “real life” experience, of having experienced only the world within a bubble of unreality?

I was touched to read “The public need investigative reporters, not court stenographers or industry spokespeople.” You could have had this in the era of that redoubtable Canadian press baron, Lord Thomson. But in the day of Murdoch? Not so much.

Seriously, for an insight into the general lie of the media land today, have a gander at “Flat Earth News”.  Written from a UK media perspective, it nevertheless applies across the board  in those places where a “free” press is supposed to prevail. Read it, weep, and wonder no more why I turned my (principled?) back on the field years ago.

Mr Mihlar’s progress is merely a symptom of a deeper disease. It’s that malady that should be being railed against. But it’s difficult to do (or, at least difficult to do credibly) because it means recognising that the media audience/market has changed, that readers no longer clamour for news and that we ourselves bear responsibility for this decline from the ideal. The mover-and-shaker classes (the career politicos, big business etc) have recognised that, by and large, people just don’t give a sh!t any more. It’s said we get the politicians we deserve. Same goes for our media.

Perhaps I’m idealistic or naive or both but I tend to think the decline in profitability of newspapers is in part due to this de-highlighting of their traditional role outlined above. Despite the widely held belief “the people” want Entertainment Weekly rather than hard news I think it’s more a case the people want Entertainment Weekly with their hard news. The success of The Guardian speaks to that, I think.

But The Scot is wise and almost always right.