Sunday, April 21, 2013

We Are All Journalists Now

This week's events have, more than anything I've ever experienced, shown up journalism for what it is in the 21st century. There are a number of adjectives that you can use, but 'redundant' seems to be the one that is worryingly closest to the truth.

Major publishers put huge store on the accuracy of their reporting, but as the age of Rolling News becomes the era of Instant News, you have to ask what role is there for journalists ? On the Boston terrorists, they told me that suspects had been caught, and then they hadn't, that they were Indian Brahmins, and then they were Chechens (they were neither). The world tuned out of 'The Media' and tuned into Twitter for local colour and the feed from the radios of the Boston PD broadcast on Ustream. Journalism was disintermediated.

Part of the problem is that there are so few of them these days. The BBC and most major UK newspapers used to have correspondents and bureaux in most major US cities, now they depend on local stringers to fill in the gap. Last week the explosion in Texas was being covered by the BBC's LA correspondent, who could have no better impression of what was going on than the rest of us with access to social media, webcasting and friends this side of the Sierra Nevadas...

The vast majority of print coverage of international issues is cut and pasted from a handful of agencies such as AP, AFP and Thomson Reuters. The pictures often come off air or from the internet, which is admittedly a great way to gather information.

On the other hand, we are all journalists now. It's just that most of us aren't paid. I have blogged for years and run a 'ezine' on Flipboard.

Which raises questions about the core values of journalism, which as well as objectivity include accuracy, insightfulness and bravery.

I have, unfortunately, known journalists who have been kidnapped and killed. The best of their breed, people like Marie Colvin  and Anna Politkovskaya are amongst my greatest heroes and the bravest of people, running towards events that most of us would be running away from. And ironically they operate in environments that are more dangerous than ever as our conflicts become more fractious and ill defined. Brave journalism will always have its place.

Insightful journalism can still be seeing rearing its head at the BBC (step forward Robert Peston and Eddie Mair) in a sea of sychophantic and partisan reporting that is worth nothing more than a party political broadcast in a dictatorship. The bias of publications such as The Times and The Economist and broadcast channels such as Fox News renders their insights valueless unless you want the reinforcement of your existing political leanings and, frankly, outmoded world views.

A recent article on how useless news is and how unhappy it makes you further devalues the output of this profession.

Even the investigative element of the journalists' role is being neutralised. In the US it is subject to commercial forces, in the UK the political pressure imposed by the likes of Tony Blair and former journalist Alastair Campbell, followed by the histrionics of the Levenson enquiry are in danger of stultifying the whole profession. The UK has no freedom of speech and has some of the most onerous liable laws in the world, as teenage Tweeters are finding to their cost.

We may all be journalists now, but we'll soon wish we were lawyers...