Friday, 21 October 2011

Wherefore 'art' thou, journalism?

For some time, whilst bemoaning the abysmal straits into which politics and our politicians have fallen, I have also attempted to highlight the dire standards of journalism - both written and visual. Both forms of the media are no longer filled with what might be termed journalists, but mere 'cut n paste' merchants, blissfully repeating press releases given to them, which means they are practitioners of the type of journalism as formulated by Walter Lippmann, an American writer who believed that (from Wikipedia):
"journalism's role at the time was to act as a mediator or translator between the public and policy making elites. The journalist became the middleman. When elites spoke, journalists listened and recorded the information, distilled it, and passed it on to the public for their consumption. His reasoning behind this was that the public was not in a position to deconstruct the growing and complex flurry of information present in modern society, and so an intermediary was needed to filter news for the masses. Lippman put it this way: The public is not smart enough to understand complicated, political issues. Furthermore, the public was too consumed with their daily lives to care about complex public policy. Therefore the public needed someone to interpret the decisions or concerns of the elite to make the information plain and simple. That was the role of journalists. Lippmann believed that the public would affect the decision-making of the elite with their vote. In the meantime, the elite (i.e. politicians, policy makers, bureaucrats, scientists, etc.) would keep the business of power running. In Lippman's world, the journalist's role was to inform the public of what the elites were doing. It was also to act as a watchdog over the elites, as the public had the final say with their votes. Effectively that kept the public at the bottom of the power chain, catching the flow of information that is handed down from experts/elites."
 From that same source we find that an alternative view of journalism existed, one proposed by John Dewey, an American philosopher, who believed that:
"the public was not only capable of understanding the issues created or responded to by the elite, it was in the public forum that decisions should be made after discussion and debate. When issues were thoroughly vetted, then the best ideas would bubble to the surface. Dewey believed journalists should do more than simply pass on information. He believed they should weigh the consequences of the policies being enacted. Dewey also believed that the shared knowledge of many is far superior to a single individual's knowledge and that conversation, debate, and dialogue lie at the heart of a democracy."
 That journalists nowadays do just listen to politicians, thus adopting Lippmann's idea, subsequently faithfully reporting what they are told without question is all too apparent. In so doing, besides showing 'slavishness' they also show their ignorance of the subject matter by accepting that which they are told as 'gospel'. Had we journalists of the school of Dewey the public would be informed and would thus know by now that our present politicians have lied to us and thus misled us and consequently cannot be trusted either now or in the future. That the Lippmann school of journalism has prevailed is not surprising because the last thing our politicians wish we, the people, to know are the real facts which would by their nature cause even more questions for those who believe they know everything, to answer.

An example of the Lipmann 'school of journalism' is James Forsyth who writes for the Spectator and the Mail. That Helen, Your Freedom and Ours, has - in modern parlance - 'ripped him a new one' is probably a waste of Helen's time and effort because Forsyth, no doubt, lacks the requisite deficit in his brain cells to understand that which Helen is writing. If Forsyth cannot understand that we can change terms of our membership only by a major treaty change, which has to be agreed unanimously, why the hell is he writing that which he is? This deficit in journalism leads on to question the ability of media editors, those who are supposed to 'edit', correct; and if necessary, discard 'rubbish'. That they do not means that any of us can fulfil the position of an editor - all we need is a rubber stamp!

1 comment:

john in cheshire said...

One of my nephews graduates next year. He wants to be a journalist. It will be interesting to see how he gets on with that, given that 6 months in Poland has disabused him of his view that socialism/communism is 'cool'. I just hope he doesn't join the bbc socialist cohort.