My mind tends to wander and mull over things when I walk and I’m trying to up my exercise for my mental and physical health so my mind’s been wandering a lot lately. On this wander, for no reason in particular, though perhaps percolated through from watching the first episode of The Newsroom (I won’t be a regular watcher though. We have this myth of the citizen journalist, the blogger, the brave new cutting edge of political, social and scientific commentary and news. Newspaper readership is plunging and news shows and channels are polarising politically and becoming more and more extreme and opinionated in chasing a smaller and smaller audience.
There’s a problem though. The citizen journalist isn’t a journalist. They’re not bound by ethics (little wonder then that journos are increasingly forgetting theirs). Many of them are just soapboxing their own opinions, spouting a particular dogma, chasing a particular demographic as though they were selling something rather than informing us. They are selling us something, what we want to hear. Fox News is probably the most egregious case of a politicised news channel, commercialising right wing politics and providing comforting mooing noises to the American right wing. They’re by no means the only ones to do so and one can find similar bias going the ‘other way’ if you look for it. I lean left so I’m not so sensitised to it, but I acknowledge that it’s there.
The irony is that this is absolutely not what we need from the mainstream media any more. If I want opinion I can read any of thousands of blogs. I can dip into my twitter feed or search on the hashtag of the item in question, like the #arabspring. I get ill informed emails and facebook messages from distant relatives and friends of friends all the time. I am drowning in opinion, conjecture and dogma the entire time I’m logged into the internet. These aren’t citizen journalists, they’re gossips.
Gossip is great, witnesses are great, people like Laurie Penny who go out there and become part of the news and report from the front lines are all well and good but they’re not giving us THE news. They’re giving us THEIR news. It’s the same with Fox etc in the US and to a lesser extent here in the UK, at least on television. We’ve been somewhat spoiled by the BBC which, other than its simpering towards the Royal Family gets criticised from all sides of the political spectrum which is generally a good indicator that they’re doing something right. Our printed news sources are as partisan and biased, if not more so, than the US though.
Market pressure, the commodification of information, has ruined television news on an international basis and it is creeping in to the UK now despite our public institutions. It’s making these big news companies do things that they’re simply not suited to. No television broadcast can hope to keep up with the internet when it comes to breaking stories. No television broadcast can tailor itself to fit someone’s views precisely. People stream their own opinion-based news from the blogs, RSS feeds, twitter subscriptions etc that they make for themselves.
Broadcast TV can’t compete with that and equally individualist internet journalism cannot hope to compete – still – with the prestige and weight that broadcast news does.
What broadcast news should be doing is not giving us more opinion, not trying to stay on top of breaking stories. What broadcast news with the money and resources that it still commands should be doing is offering us THE news, free from bias. Broadcast news should be doing the analysis, the depth, talking to the experts. ‘This is what happened, this is what educated and intelligent people are saying was involved’. Not blame games, just the pursuit of truth and accuracy with an integrity that makes it trustworthy.
Leave the opinion and shouting to the ‘citizen journalist’.