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

the decline of journalism « Previous | |Next »
May 19, 2011

Annabel Crabb in her Finding a coin for the journalistic juke box at The Drum refers to the ongoing decline of quality journalism from falling sales of metropolitan newspapers and advertising revenue.

The standard corporate response has been cost cutting and restructuring to cover the media corporation's costs of production. The inference is that there simply will be less journalism created by professional journalists and the slide of much of contemporary journalism into banality will continue.

Crabb says that:

The internet has corroded so many of the structural basics of the journalistic transaction. Our monopoly over basic source information is significantly undermined, seeing as anyone can now watch parliament, or press conferences, or go through company reports online or tinker around with the websites of government departments. Our monopoly over the dissemination of information is damaged too, seeing as anyone can now set up a cheap publishing platform.

She adds that a journalist's main professional advantage over a blogger, increasingly, is that they have the luxury of being paid for what they do, and the privilege of some years' experience of this pleasant arrangement.

It's only the former difference that counts here, since many bloggers also have had several years of experience and they also have intellectual property rights.

What she doesn't say is what Tim Dunlop highlights: that politics cannot be understood separately from the way in which it is reported and that journalists don’t like criticism. On the latter point:

From day one, bloggers were attacked and caricatured, dismissed as ne’er do wells who talk nonsense and who had nothing to teach the seasoned professionals of the mainstream. And each new technological development - comments sections, Facebook, Twitter, whatever - has been similarly dismissed as worthy of little more than contempt.

Dunlop says---and this is the core argument of his article--- that what journalists have not done is to engage with the criticisms of how the Canberra Press Gallery practice political journalism. He adds:
It is hard to think of an industry more entrapped by what it considers the untouchable verities of its craft, or one that thinks it can so blithely ignore complaints from its customers. In fact, there is a sense that journalists see criticism as an indication that they are doing something right, not something wrong, and it produces a bunker mentality that makes them all the more determined to continue on the same course.

The bunker mentality basically says that the decline of journalism is not the journalists fault. Roy Greenslade concurs. The bunker mentality is 'we are the victims.'

Now the criticisms of political journalism are substantive --it is now less about enlightening democratic citizens about debates around policy issues that matter to the public, and more trivia and spin, gotcha politics and partisan deception.

There are, as Jonathan Holmes points out in The ten commandments of journalism?, journalists who win Gold Walkeys for expose those in power who are trying to change our world for the worse. They sustain the tradition of independent, serious-minded journalism, especially investigative journalism and their work is the first draft of history.

However, they are a small minority, compared to those whose work consists of trivia and spin, gotcha politics and partisan deception. This is why we can say that decline of journalism is the journalists’ fault. We can add that journalists need to take responsibility for the infortainment trash they write.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:48 PM | | Comments (10)


Sorry, which journalists are these that dismiss Facebook and Twitter? All the political journalists I know are all over it and don't stop going on about it, almost to the point of wanting them to shut up about f&^%$ing Twitter.
Journalists (including bloggers) are not all the same. There are good ones and bad ones. There are bunker mentalists and visionaries.
This old media vs new media argument is tired, petty, and so flawed with generalisations and caricatures that throwing another bit of fuel on the fire is just a waste of readers' time.

re your comment:

which journalists are these that dismiss Facebook and Twitter? All the political journalists I know are all over it and don't stop going on about it, almost to the point of wanting them to shut up about f&^%$ing Twitter.

That is true today. But Dunlop's point is about the initial reaction of the journo's to the new media when it first emerged. It's an accurate description of their reaction.

I concur that the old media vs new media argument is tired, petty, and so flawed with generalisations and caricatures that throwing another bit of fuel on the fire is just a waste of readers' time. However, Dunlop is referring to the journo's very defensive reaction to Lindsay Tanner's book---Sideshow: dumbing down democracy.

Tanner argues that too much of Australia's media is shallow, explains how the media's preference for superficial stunts over serious analysis influences how politicians behave, and outlines the detrimental consequences for the effective functioning of democracy in Australia. This argument has been made by bloggers.

Dunlop is right. The Canberra Press Gallery aren't really engaging with this kind of argument. They are more interested in trying to pressure Tanner into kiss and tell.

An example from 2009 of journos attacking bloggers.

It is Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, during the Stuart Bullion Memorial Lecture in Journalism. In his speech, “The Death of News and the Rise of the Entertainment Culture”, he says:

Reporting challenges, countermands or destabilizes established beliefs. Reporting, which is time-consuming and often expensive, begins from the premise that there are things we need to know and understand, even if these things make us uncomfortable. If we lose this ethic we are left with pandering, packaging and partisanship. We are left awash in a sea of competing propaganda. Bloggers, unlike most established reporters, rarely admit errors. They cannot get fired. Facts, for many bloggers, are interchangeable with opinions. Take a look at The Drudge Report. This may be the new face of what we call news.

Blogging is reduced to The Drudge Report.

Another other line of defence is that Google is to blame for the sorry state of journalism today. Or it is the way the PR industry treats journalists that is responsible for the current state of journalism.

Once upon a time they were 'reporters', and performed a valuable public service. These days they are 'commentators' or 'op-ed writers' first and reporters a very long second. Placing events within narrative du jour and making overblown forecasts of the implications take precedence over straight-out factual reporting.

That development has had little to do with new media and lots to do with the strategies of newspaper and TV proprietors and managers and the priorities of journalists themselves, who plainly see a gig talking pompous nonsense on 'Insiders' as a much higher status job than writing insightful accounts of what actually happened.

If paid journalists see themselves as being in competition with amateur bloggers, that's a sad indictment of their own lack of professional competence and sense of purpose. Crabb is correct in her analysis but she overlooks the fact that professionals ought to be able to write a story much more capably than amateurs. Or to put it another way, the MSM's reporting of a story should be more informative, accurate and interesting than something written online by an amateur, simply because the professional should be better at the craft of writing.

The opposite is more often true these days.

Tanner was pretty accurate in predicting how his book would be received by the Canberra Press Gallery.

He wrote that most political journalists would be hunting for revelatory snippets that could be shaped into an article under a headline blaring that "Tanner attacks" colleagues, decisions or priorities from his time in government.

Tanner's prediction about the response to his book proved startlingly accurate. The following headlines speak for themselves: "Tanner's tirade", "Ex-minister unloads on Rudd government", "Insider lets rip on Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd governments" and "Tanner savages leaders, media in new book". Many of the articles under these headlines were written by journalists who had not read the book at the time they wrote them.

Franklin Roosevelt, faced with a hostile press, bypassed them with his fireside chats. Here is advice to Gillard to do the same, and more ...

Is she game? We shall see.

Bob Brown weighs in. His argument is that Canberra political journalists have a glass jaw: they like dishing it out but don't like a taste of their own medicine.

'You compare and contrast and take on politicians and other sections of the media, but you don't like it when we take you on. Don't be so tetchy. Just measure up to your own rules.

News Ltd was specifically mentioned. Their journalism is:
not balanced. It is opinionated. It's not news. It's not what you would read in other countries around the world. I think the Murdoch media is doing a great disservice to this nation.

Andrew Elder is right about Crabb. She writes about this stuff as though it's all someone else's fault and nothing to do with the way journalists do their jobs. I'd sooner pay to read Greg Jericho than Annabel Crabb, because as Ken L pointed out several years ago, political journalists treat their audience like idiots. They seem to interpret backlash as popularity.

The ABC's Chris Uhlmann provides another example in The Drum of why the Canberra Press Gallery should be criticized.

Uhlmann places his own interview with Bob Brown on the 7.39 Report in his Drum article. In the interview he claims that Brown in 2007 said that he wants to shut the coal industry down, and Uhlmann gives the impression that Brown's position is that this is to be done immediately.

Brown wrote an op -ed. in The Australian in 2007 in which he said:

The Greens believe that we need to move beyond Australia’s reliance on coal. Last week, I called on whoever wins office at this year’s election to commit to a plan to phase out coal exports. That plan must be in place by the end of the next term of government so that we can move beyond coal as a matter of urgency.

It might take decades for the task to be completed, but the scientists are telling us that we must start immediately. The coal industry plays an important role in the Australian economy, but it is also a major threat to our economic future.

In the interview Uhlmann continually talked over Brown.

The video indicates that Uhlmann has a limited grasp of the issue. Brown is clearly advocating for a gradual transition to gas and renewables, not an immediate switch.
It's a reasonable position. Yet Uhlmann equates this with closing the coal industry down. Uhlmann's question 'How will you replace the 50 billion from coal when you kill it off' just dumbs the issue down.

In his Drum piece Uhlmann calls his gotcha style journalism media scrutiny of the Green's policies and actions--he says that the Greens should be treated seriously, given the balance of power they will soon hold. But they can't take the heat. The interview was meant to back up this claim.

Uhlmann's Drum piece looks to be a defensive reaction to Brown's criticism of the media. It indicates that Canberra Press Gallery does not like criticism of their gotcha journalism.

One of the Insiders royalty remarked a couple of weeks ago "You can say anything on blogs"
Yes and you dont even need to be consistant in your opinions either.