REAL JOURNALISM is dying and there is no easy way to resuscitate it. Overshadowed by an increasing emphasis on gossip, advertising and sensationalism, the idea of unveiling the truth is becoming irrelevant. Many journalists have acquired the role of entertainers rather than investigators, aiming the work they put through at distracting the public rather than enlightening them.
The downfall of journalism goes hand in hand with its industrialisation. As old family owners failed to cover the costs of their newspapers, they were bought out by wealthy businessmen who decided to apply the same logic to their newspapers as they did to any other company. They made drastic cuts to lower the production costs in order to increase the profits, completely disregarding the importance of a structure and the time required to produce decent news stories.
In Flat Earth News, Nick Davies claims these new owners were able to make such radical changes due to the decline of the unions that were set to protect the integrity of journalism. It started in the late 1980s, as Davies states: “they replaced the old hot-metal production with computerised technology, disposing for ever of multiple thousands of highly paid printers. Then, in the early nineties, they cut more costs to improve their profit margins. From 1993, they cut again to finance the price war which was launched in London by the Murdoch papers. In the late nineties, they cut again as the Internet began to suck readers and advertisers out of the traditional mass media, replacing widespread profit with heavy loss”.
A young trainee under the pseudonym Samuel Pecke wrote an article for the British Journalism Review claiming the lack of funds and training available in the newsroom were directly resulting in the production of news that were far below the standards of professional journalism. Yet, the owners of his newspaper were pleased as they accumulated a £70million profit from their incessant cuts and focus on advertising.
Pecke claims the most disappointing aspect of his working environment was being confined to his office space. In addition, he states the cuts prohibited making phone calls overseas and even leaving the office to gather information for his stories. The majority of the interviews were conducted over the phone and Pecke relied on the Internet for most of his written work. In order to fill the space in the newspaper, journalists were obliged to rewrite old stories to portray them as new and plagiarise material from other newspapers.
These conditions, however, are not exclusive to local newspapers. Nick Davies commissioned the Cardiff University to investigate five of Britain’s most prestigious newspaper companies (The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and the Daily Telegraph) to find out where their news stories came from. Their research showed that a staggering 70% of these newspapers’ stories were entirely or partly rewritten from wire copy (usually from The Associated Press).
The problem with copying material from news agencies is that journalists and editors are even more reluctant to fact check their stories. Confirming the veracity of news stories before they are published should be a priority considering the influence the press carries upon the general public. Yet fact checking appears to be a luxury most journalists cannot afford as they rush and move on to write the next story. Serious mistakes go unnoticed in the newsroom every day and are fed to their readers as the truth.
In addition, the blatant support of political campaigns has shattered the credibility of the newspapers’ objectiveness. The amount of PR and distortion to promote certain political figures has gone so far that during the election, most of the stories will carry an underline that either puts their preferred political party in a good light or shames their opponents.
The intentional lack of diversity in the newsrooms removes the possibility of a balanced point of view. Consequently, people from minority backgrounds and people from the LGBT community are highly misrepresented in the media. At every opportunity that arises, they are vilified and alienated from the rest of the society. This inaccurate and biased reporting is a misuse of the public’s trust and it can have a large impact on how they perceive others.
However, the low pay has made it so only the wealthy can afford to join the industry, shutting the door to many of the talented and potential journalists who could contribute to making a difference. The endless queue of graduates waiting to get a foot in also means that many journalists and editors feel like they have to put up with this misconduct even when they highly disagree with it.
The amount of personal sacrifices required to succeed in this industry can easily turn any ambitious journalist who set out to do good in the world into a part of the problem. Whilst compensated with lousy pay checks, a lack of training and the lack of equipment to do a decent job, most journalists are convincing when they say they are not doing it for the money. Yet somehow, over the the last few decades, journalism has gone from being a profession that serves the public to an industry that profits the rich.