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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

would you trust a journalist? « Previous | |Next »
August 28, 2003

I have come across this story about the decline of journalism by Michael D'Antonio. The link is courtesy of Rhetorica. Tis a sad narrative with a lot of nostalgia for the ethos of traditional journalism that has been swallowed up in the bright new world of communications.

The text starts by saying that journalists take bribes and that readers doesn't believe much of what they read in the press in general because its all biased and deceptive. This is a big fall from the watchdog role of the press in uncovering truth and cutting through partisan propaganda with its journalist ethos of fairness, honesty and independence.

What caused the fall from trust?

Several things according to the article. The tabloids came to the fore and the television networks began reporting secondhand what the tabloids were saying. Then the television networks began developing more "news" programs devoted to celebrities, lifestyles and other soft features whilst the newspapers, faced with stagnant or declining circulations, trimmed the number of pages devoted to hard news and expanded feature sections. Thus the drift toward infotainment.

All this is well known. But it does not account for the personality journalist with attitude---the Andrew Bolts or the Miranda Devines. Michael discusses this under 'buzz':

"Buzz is the publicity and chatter that hovers around a hot book, article, film or TV program. Buzz can raise newsstand sales, get your article optioned by a film company and turn a journalist into a hot commodity. One of the best ways to generate buzz is to write with edge, with an attitude."

Buzz displaces speaking truth to power in favour of journalists becoming celebrities. The desire is now to become noticed.

Buzz becomes transformed by radio and television. They turn it into shrill, in the form of news talk radio or loud television disputes that sought to entertain not with fluff but with fury. Well known examples in Australia are Alan Jones and John Laws. These hyper-aggressive, politically-driven white male shockjocks, such as Stan Zemanek at Radio 2UE, have gradually commandeered much of the AM band with programs that are a hybrid of entertainment and political advocacy. The nationally syndicated talkers have replaced local programming, and the network format has turned much of radio into a clubhouse for listeners who share the same views and has reduced radio's role as a source of straight journalism.

Michael then draws attention to what is beginning to happen in Australia. He says that the:

"... success of conservative radio hosts inspired cable networks to copy them..... They are not journalists but performers... The success of opinionated fast-talkers has led TV news departments to hire a parade of glib political figures as analysts and show hosts....Few of these people have ever spent a day gathering straight news. But all of them are skilled at spinning issues to present their point of view in a startling way."

Michael says that the Fox News cable network is an example of this paradigm. Fox openly mixes conservative opinion with news and taps the core audience devoted to conservative talk radio. In Sydney Australia that is 2GB and 2UE.

So there we have it. The decline of traditional, independent journalism speaking truth to power is due to both the rise of politically biased, high-profile analysts who distort the truth for rhetorical effect, and the blending of entertainment, news and opinion. As Tim Porter observes Micheal D'Antonio's text has the funereal air of an obituary for traditional journalism. If journalism -- the system by which we get our news -- is being subsumed by communications then what is going to replace it?

We have news outlets being owned by larger media corporations who use "journalism" or television programmes to promote their conglomerate parent's products, to engage in subtle lobbying or corporate rivalry and to intermingle journalism with advertising to boost profits. These pretty much encourage and promote market capitalism, with this self- interested commercialism posing as news discourage participation in public life and disconnected from a responsibility to provide citizens with good information.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:51 PM | | Comments (5)


Have you actually listened to much Laws or Jones? How much?

There's a reason why most of their listeners are over 50. They're dull. Incredibly dull. I don't know how the "shockjock" myth about those two began, but while US shockjocks are interviewing lesbian porn stars and nude midgets, Jones and Laws interview farmers and John Williamson and Dick Smith.

And the music? Rifle through your grandmother's 78s and you'll find racier tunes.

There's also an absence of fury. They're smotheringly genial and mild. It's oldtimer radio.

Tune in and find out. It'll take about 30 minutes, and you'll never recycle Phillip Adams' shockjock lies again.

I don't listened to much radio.
I did tune into Stan Zemanek's 9-12 night show whilst writing the post.The Beast was pretty bland.

I have heard the John Laws Morning Show in its syndicated form in Adelaide. I also thought this kind of conservative radio with it s blend of entertainment, news and opinion very tame and bland.

The shockjock is their image. It runs through their advertising and publicity. It also refers to the rhetorical effect in terms of attacking the left liberalism of a Philip Adams.

My impression of some of them is that they are mostly bland and uninteresting until they get a caller who they can release their full fury on. Very similar to the newspaper columnists on that score.

Several of the Adelaide ones obviously hold their listeners in contempt. You can hear it in their voices.

who are the Adelaide ones so that I can listen? I only know the ABC one.

I'm pretty sure that they have talkback on 5DN and 5AA. 5AA probably has more of it than anyone else. If Bob Francis is still around, he definatley sees himself as a shock jock when someone says something he doesn't agree with.

I remember during one Festival that a Jewish performance artist did a performance where she asked audience members to inspect her with a speculum. Bob Byrne, played a soundtrack of a Nazi rally with Schickelgruber in full rant mode and said something along the lines of 'Adolf, where are you now?'.

I don't really listen to it anymore, rather listen to other things. You soon begin to recognise the regulars and the patronising attitude though.

Another interesting thing was that one of the announcers on an opposition station used to go on AA and pretend to be an English lawyer.