A Little About Journalism.
Anyway, as part of this degree, I was going to try a three way Major – Visual Art, Philosophy and Literary Studies. I started on the literary studies part, but was unable to fit my exams into my tight schedule. The study did teach me a few things though. These will be included below if you have the will to read on (knowing that it may be verbose and hypersomnia inducing!) :-)
On Kimberlycun's blog, (and several other peoples blogs) recent articles have been written basically decrying the poor journalism of a couple of hacks who had the audacity to bring blogging into disrepute. I will not go into details, you can read the articles on each persons blog. My article is not about that newspaper article. It is more about journalism in general and some questions S-Kay asked on Kimberly's blog.
What happened to journalism ethics? They don't exist anymore do they? What happened to publishing news based on concrete facts. And I thought journalism emphasized on looking at one scenario from not only one side of it but two (or more).
The point I made when I commented on Kimberly's blog, was that journalism is NOT about telling the truth, or anything else. It is about SELLING newspapers. First and foremost, if we understand this, we will see why the truth often falls by the wayside, and integrity is more of a grey area included in newspapers.
Let me tackle S-Kay's first question: What happened to journalism ethics? They don't exist anymore do they?
Nope. They never existed. They are like most things in modern society. They are little white lies told to keep people from knowing the truth. This one also stops people from questioning what is written, and after all, is that not what most of the world is about. Stopping people from thinking, and stopping people from asking questions that someone, somewhere along the line will have to answer.
This does not mean that there is not media people or journalists out there who are not ethical. I am sure most journalists go out everyday with their own set of ethics and social values. A journalist will only be as ethical as anyone else.
They have a saying in show business. “We don't care if you won't do it. We can always find someone else who will.” Actually, from personal experience, I think this is most businesses.
The problem with this, is it means most companies will let you resign and just hire someone willing to do the dirty illegal things you and I would not do. Ethics is something which is forced onto businesses through laws. (Businesses are neither ethical nor unethical by default. It is the people who work for them who will fall into the ethical and unethical departments). We can only hope that the laws of the land force enough ethics into a businesses to make us feel safe to compete and work.
So, with this in mind, what business is the Newspaper Publisher in? It is in the SELLING Newspapers business. If it cannot sell newspapers, then it will cease to exist. The actual writing of the paper is a secondary thing for the business, which it must do in order to fill its paper with content. If people would buy the same newspaper everyday, then they would not be bothered writing new articles. They would just reprint the same paper everyday and sell them.
On the ethical side, papers have been successfully sued for libel before. If they do wish to lean towards a falsehood, they will just tell enough truth to avoid a law suit, while still leaning towards what they want you to believe. Obviously the successful lawsuits are those when they crossed the line.
With this in mind, do papers have agendas?
Yes, that is why they hire editors and writers. Most of the time, a writer will always err towards their own bias! Most people on the planet have a bias (whether they think so or not) and will err towards it either consciously or subconsciously. In the case of the media, it is almost always conscious. Why? Well, they need to sell papers.
Part of my Literary studies course was to get to the crux of what was actually being said, and (hopefully) to see through the deception of the writers to what is a fact, and what is in fact editorial. Most writers, whether they will admit it or not, editorialise. Yes, even me, but hey, I am not pretending this is anything other than my personal opinion based on what I know and have learnt.
Notice this line I wrote, “...decrying the poor journalism of a couple of hacks who had the audacity to bring blogging into disrepute.” Yep, that was ME EDITORIALISING. I am not hiding it. Actually, this entire thing is an editorial but, that is what most blogs are. [Keep that in mind as you read this].
Face it, most of us do lean on what we have learnt while living in this world. Some of it we learn through experience, and other things we learn through reading or hearing about in some way.
Let's put it another way. If you read a paper published by socialists, what do you think it's bias would be? If it is published by right winged Nazi's, what would you think their bias would be? Do you think they will report the same incident in the same way?
What is the point of the media if they do not tell the truth?
Well, I am glad you asked. We have already discussed their reason for existing (to SELL SELL SELL). Their relevance to us is, it still behaves to spread the news. In exactly the same way as rumours we would have heard if we were living in a non-media world. Just, in this case, the rumours can be spread more rapidly. They are also more believable as they can include photos, or accounts of eye witnesses.
Let's get to S-Kay's other questions: What happened to publishing news based on concrete facts.
Concrete fact is something which is hard to define. As such, journalists do not stick to it much. After all, what happens if a journalist arrives at a scene, and does not know the complete story. They cannot stand there like dumb asses and say, “Hi, this is Kent Brockman. I'm at the scene of a terrible something which I don't know! I was just asked to come here and report!” That makes no sense. They just run with what they know, embellish it a little and later change what they can confirm or deny.
How many times have you seen the news change from what it was reported as to something else as “more news comes to hand”. This does not mean that the journalist is being a “bad journalist”. After all, the facts are second to actually getting you to read or watch.
S-Kay's last question: (or comment) And I thought journalism emphasized on looking at one scenario from not only one side of it but two (or more).
Nope! The normal meme of journalism is that they do not look at both sides or more. The normal meme they wish you to believe is included in the previous question from S-Kay – they want you to believe they are giving you “just the facts”. This is so you do not think they have a bias. When a story does have 'two sides' they will normally show you people from both sides making comments or answering questions, but it does not mean that both sides are equally being represented, nor does it mean they are getting to the facts.
One of my old Football coaches was interviewed on Television once. (The interview involved his Union, of which he was a Union Official) When the interview came on that night, to his shock, the questions that he had been asked had been edited out. New different questions were used. To make it seem even worse, his answered has been edited to make it say things he had not said. Sound ethical? Sound like they were getting to the facts? Sound illegal? Well, the TV station owns the rights to the interview, which includes editing it to say what they like.
(Remember Oprah being sued recently for editing out a persons comments which would have changed the entire bias of her show. In the court case, she argued that her show was for “Entertainment” NOT “for enlightening the public on issues”. Are you getting an idea of what the media is about? Oprah won the case. This is of course, no criticism of Oprah. Next time you watch her show though, remember what her show is about. If you are watching to get all the information on an issue, then you are a very sad person.)
A recent example of Journalism showing bias, is the “Schapelle Corby is innocent” media coverage in my country at the moment. Is she innocent? I have no idea. I have not seen all the facts. If you believe the Australian media, then she is. If you believe the Indonesians who are protesting and demanding she get the Death Penalty, then she is guilty.
My mother is one of the people in Australia who believes Schapelle was framed and needs to be set free. Why? Was my mother there? Did she see any of what actually happened? No, she was not. She has only seen what the media has allowed her to see. I would not mind seeing what the Indonesian media has said about her. After all, when we see Indonesians on our news demanding the death penalty for her, I wonder what they have been told.
If anyone from Bali is out there, please tell me how the media has portrayed her? It will be interesting to compare. I have resisted writing about Schapelle on my blog previously because, as I have already stated, I do not know if she is guilty or innocent. I DO NOT HAVE ALL THE FACTS. I am sure there are people out there who think they do. If there are, then please do not send them here, send them to the relevant authorities, so that the courts in Indonesia can do their jobs. I am not a judge, or jury. I will most be suspicious of anyone trying to sway me either way.
Similarly, the Michael Jackson trial was recently on. In the US, apparently the population was split as to whether he was guilty or innocent. The main bias I see in the media here, is a slant towards the 'guilty' opinion. Yet, once again, I do not posses all the facts.
Do you feel manipulated yet? I hope so.
Here is one of the things I studied in my literary studies. Part of the course was called “Inventing Australia”. It went into details of things which occurred and were reported in newspapers of the times. It also included writings of people from the times,and their records of what actually happened. It was interesting to see how the newspapers said one thing, and the people on the ground said the opposite. Yet, a lot of the media reports are what eventually went into Australian folklore and helped shape Australia's image. (Mainly as people doing research look at what was written in the papers of the time).
It has been said that, “The victors write history”. In today's media, even the vanquished get their say.
When the US lead troops were in Baghdad in the recent Iraq war. It was funny to watch the Iraqi propaganda minister on TV saying that they were winning the war. He said the US were no where near them. In the meantime, the news was also showing the US soldiers in firefights a few blocks from the very studio that the Iraqi minister was making that announcement. As they say, “The first casualty in war, is the truth.” How true that is!
I could continue adding more examples that I know of, but I'll end it otherwise this will get even bigger than four A4 sized pieces of paper.
Newspapers are about selling newspapers, NOT about reporting the news. A journalist is as ethical as they would be in any other job. (i.e. an ethical journalist would be ethical as a doctor or a car sales man – while an unethical one would probably be an unethical doctor or cars sales man) etc. The Media in and of itself is neither ethical nor unethical – it is the people within it who set the ethical standard. Concrete facts in most cases are neither concrete, nor facts. (Even courts have trouble with that some times) Papers have their own agendas and if you already know their agenda, it helps to sift some of the chaff from the facts. Journalism is not about looking at all sides to a story. There are often as many sides as there are people on the planet.
Your homework - read some newspaper articles and figure out what they are trying to MAKE you beleive. :-)
Feedback both positive and negative welcome.