What’s this? An actual article. No, it’s not under 140 characters. Yes, I lied to you. Because that’s what all of us journalists do, right? Wrong.
You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
(thank God!) the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there’s no occasion to.
– Humbert Wolfe
When I told the old man at my local off-licence I'd be moving to go back into news journalism, he shot me a quizzical look before muttering: "You're a news journalist? Thought you were better than that." I gave the obligatory nod and smile because I liked the guy and I didn't want to go off into a media spiel at 7am pre-coffee fix. So instead I came back and started to type.
The truth? How uncouth.
When I was seven, I was pitching stories to Newsround. I was completely fixated on journalism, especially its appearance in film. I'd watch the black and white productions with the iconic rows of men and women, ferociously typing in a fog of nicotine. His Girl Friday, Call Northside 777 and The Front Page all fascinated me with their power and determination to write a good story.
Take the caricature of a contemporary journalist: a smiling, seedy snake ready to steal all your shady secrets. Just before I left home to study journalism, the Leveson inquiry began. At the time, this was tantamount to putting the pen in the satirist's hand. Journalism had never looked like a worse profession to pursue. And yet, as authentic communication remained integral to society, I was adamant that there was still good journalism about. I remember watching Carl Bernstein's lecture in 2008 and his affirmation that reporters would "try to obtain the best attainable version of the truth".
The British media prides itself on having a free press (apologies Owen Jones, I know you disagree). With this immense power, it's our only investigator of governmental bodies: our very own watchdog. A watchdog at the hands of a nonpunishable typewriter. The truth, I thought, was the central tenet of the journalist’s handbook.
What could go wrong?
"Tut tut, you bad, bad British press" – Anon. *Anon likes, shares and pulls a status littered with scapegoating*
Oh, how naive I was. Journalists scheme, lie and pry into the most private of affairs. But that's nothing new. Nick Davies jibes that "we journalists have always worked with too little time and too little certainty; with laws that intimidate and inhibit the search for truth".
Whatever's breaking free, it's not always the truth. Enter the next track. <<Under Pressure>>
Britain's public suckles on bad journalism, and it's the red tops especially which feed this frenzy. Andrew Marr puzzled over the matter too. "What has been going wrong? It isn't a lack of talent. The trade employs some of the best writers in Britain." (My Trade: Andrew Marr).
Meanwhile, former Daily Star reporter, Richard Peppiatt – "If you won't write it, we'll get someone who will" – exposed his disgust at the rigmarole written in his public resignation. (The Guardian)
Questions asked shouldn't revolve around why the papers are publishing appalling headlines, but rather, why are we buying into them? Why do we have a thirst for such?
Charlie Brooker nods (in a fast Churchill dog fashion) towards this in his productions of Black Mirror – the public lap up what the media and reality TV give us, but you are what you eat.
“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.” – Oscar Wilde.
Racial hate is spread in seconds with a share on social media. It's not necessarily just tabloids that contribute to scaremongering either.
Hold the ph...finger.
Before hitting that share button, just ask yourself: Where are your sources coming from? As it becomes easier to perform citizen journalism, so it becomes easier for every Tom, Dick and Harry with an iPhone to call themselves a ‘journalist’. The smartphone is everything now: your Teeline shorthand, your notepad, your dictaphone and news crew. Add a touch of Photoshop, sprinkle in some scapegoat, and ferment a large following and you can easily cook up some intoxicating propaganda.
I'm not inferring citizen journalism is negative – it definitely has its place in society. In the tragic cases of terrorism and serious organised crime, citizen journalists have provided footage that has led to prosecutions. Western world newsroom priorities have seen war atrocities and uprisings in the East lacking extensive coverage, so the men (and women) on the street have had to act our eyes on the ground.
Owen Jones, whom I mentioned earlier, fights his corner for our lack of a free press. (Take note his mention of the Beeb, too). Ask yourself, if you had editorial control under a free press, what content would you write?
It's important to consider that, if it wasn't for a free press, The Guardian wouldn't have been able to unearth the horror of 2011's phone-hacking scandal which led to the Leveson inquiry. With limitations pushed down on police forces, and the nosey nature of a journalist, this has enabled the media to act as a second form of security to the UK. Investigative journalist, Veronica Guerin, had her life taken uncovering Irish drug barons in 1996; an area which the police wouldn't touch. War correspondents risk everything to report on conflicts. ITV, meanwhile, exposed Savile and the BBC in 2012. The list goes on.
Everyone is biased. Perhaps, though, we require this rich tapestry of biased content in order to make informed decisions. Yes, the tactics, ethics and morals involved in obtaining this content are sometimes questionable. And the portrait of a journalist as a squirmy sensationalist is now more marked than ever. But, arguably, these serpentine characteristics are a necessity – the nature of the beast. Minus the media, which other body independent of the system is prepared to risk its skin to keep the likes of politicians, governmental bodies and criminals on their toes?
As headlines continue to reek of doom and gloom, so Britain needs its journalism more than ever. Ultimately, perhaps, it's the red-top tarnish that's given Britain bad press, but even they are only catering to what we buy into. We millennials, who preach on every possible online platform, have the power to provide and support good, honest reporting. With a whole load of trash at our fingertips, it's finding reliable sources, and finding the truth, that's key.