Self-righteous and Lazy Journalism

Over the past couple of days, the media has once again been in the spotlight, with Murdoch deemed neither fit or proper, and the role of England football manager being given to someone who the press hadn’t pre-approved and are now seemingly liable to destroy.

But are the media really in a position to be so holier-than-thou and what right do they have in 2012 to be judge, jury and executioner?

Since the launch of the BBC website nearly 15 years ago, the aim of most major news organisations has changed massively. All of them are now vying to get the big stories to the public before everyone else, and often at the expense of accuracy and decent journalistic standards. The public’s expectations have now been lowered so much, that the power of a picture and a quick quote has overtaken the respect garnered by a full length feature article. Many now prefer the cheap and cheerful likes of the Metro over tucking into a broadsheet during their supposedly time-poor days.

Unfortunately this has led to lazy practices from across the media world. Time and time again, the papers as well as the online media now rely solely on Twitter for their news, with one headline on Monday this week stating “Englandstars keep quiet on Hodgson appointment.” Strangely this was BEFORE Roy Hodgson had even been interviewed let alone appointed and based entirely on the fact that Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney hadn’t been as vocal as they were when Fabio Capello first resigned. Once again, the press were trying to goad a soundbite from professional footballers in order to create news themselves rather than wait for it to happen. It also appeared that they were trying to create a rift before Hodgson had even begun his new role, and even after the official appointment, they’ve continued to ridicule the man for his unfortunate speech impediment. No doubt these same organisations will be the first to criticise him when players don’t perform as they should in anEnglandshirt, and they’ll probably blame it on a lack of respect for the manager, something which they will ironically have helped to create themselves.

It can also be argued that what people put on Twitter, in the main, isn’t news. Yes, times change and more people are making announcements (Lady Gaga touringEuropefor example) via Twitter as it is such a quick and easy way to communicate to fans. But is this really news? Or is it just a modern day soapbox that just so happens to be accessible to most people across the globe? Surely it is far too unregulated to have any sort of journalistic integrity, missing many of the checkpoints that any good journalist should hit in order to prove the accuracy of their story?

Forgive me for going into detail, but being taught journalism isn’t just about telling people how to cut an essay down to a couple of columns, it’s about the legality and the accuracy of the writing that you are producing, and your responsibilities to the public interest. Any error, whether it is the spelling of a person’s name, or the date of a hearing could be hugely damaging and distressing, and journalists have a responsibility to check and check again before publishing any of their work in print or online.

The panic to be faster than everyone else to the big news stories of the day has resulted in some major errors, most recently during the recent Ched Evans rape case when Sky News “accidentally” revealed the name of the victim. This is something that would have been nigh on impossible to do only a few years ago, but instead it highlights just how poor standards now are. Interestingly, police have threatened to arrest those on Twitter who also revealed the girl’s name, but Sky seem somehow exempt from any sort of similar action, simply by claiming it was a mistake. To me, this simply isn’t good enough.

Maybe I am too pedantic. Maybe I am spotting things that don’t really matter, or mistakes that people don’t notice in their rush to skim the day’s news. I can’t help but feel though that by allowing standards to drop in the media, we are also encouraging poorer attention to detail and accuracy across the board. I’ve seen a lot of CVs in my time, and the amount of simple mistakes made which in my eyes disqualifies people from an interview immediately is unforgivable.

We need organisations such as the BBC to lead by example and I just wish that they would take more time writing and sub-editing their web news, rather than publishing it in a half-finished, typo-filled shambles. The Guardian used to be absolutely pilloried for their shocking mistakes (Private Eye even mocking them by calling them “The Grauniad”) but nowadays it seems to be an all too easily accepted part of media production.

Hopefully lessons are being learned, and in a post-Commons media committee/Leveson Inquiry world, the large media corporations will sit up and take note. If they don’t, we could see more than just the News of the World going out of business in the not too distant future.

Back In The Game

Well folks, it’s all go. Motivation has finally kicked in, and I’m now warming myself up for some epic writing.

As I’ve talked about on here before, I enjoy writing. I’ve written in different styles and to different lengths in my life previously. I guess we all write, otherwise our teachers would be hugely disappointed in us, so me telling you that I like to do something which most humans do might not feel that incredible. But I feel that in the absence of being that strong a “numbers” man, words have always given me greater solace. Don’t get me wrong, I can muddle through equations, probability and sorting some data on an Excel spreadsheet, but I like the flexibility and fluidity of the written word. I also like using ten words when two would have sufficed, something to do with ego/liking the sound of my own voice/delusions of grandeur, but hey, if you don’t like it…

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that I find I can only express myself properly when it is fully considered and thought through. Twitter posts and text messages just seem too rushed and end up coming out as if I haven’t really got to the true gist of my original thought. Even emails can be short and quickly typed out to serve a purpose; that’s the downside to the immediacy of the online world.

I’m actually quite guilty of joining in with this trend towards quick and shallow media consumption. In recent years, I haven’t really read that many books. At University, doing a degree in Journalism meant consuming a lot of quick media. A tabloid and a broadsheet every day (and this was in the day of dial up and limited web access), plus reading through and re-writing essays and attending a couple of nights out in the local discotheque each week seemed to take up the majority of my time.

I haven’t really rectified it since either. Nowadays, I get my fix of news and information like everyone else does, a few apps and mobile sites on the daily commute, the odd link to a funny story sent around at work, maybe a quick glance over the shoulder of a Metro reader.

I am however quite “old school” in that I do buy magazines. It’s odd, as by the time I read them, the information has often been superceded, but I like a glossy publication with shiny pictures and carefully designed styles. It takes effort, skill, and a hell of a lot of hard work. I know. I’ve been there.

Interestingly, a magazine that I used to read faithfully (until they started regularly featuring The Prodigy, but that’s another story) Kerrang! is 30 years old today. The big three-oh. Three whole decades of publishing a weekly rock rag. That takes a lot of effort, ideas and commitment to keep it going that long, despite haemorrhaging sales by somewhere close to 50% since its zenith. They back it up with half-decent online content and the resulting advertising revenue, but even so, the printed version still hits W H Smith every Wednesday.

Having so much content online does seem to mean that the written word is sadly losing its authority somewhat. People tend to trust the recommendations of their peers through Facebook or Twitter. Gone are the days of having a favourite writer who you knew would give an honest review of the latest work by your favourite beat combo. I remember when I would almost feel like I knew these people, there was that much of their personality and individual style in their work.

What I think I am trying to get at is that being a writer now is probably 800 times for difficult than it was even ten years ago. Everyone has always been entitled to an opinion, but today, people have so many opportunities to express that opinion to the entire world, despite their level of education or talent. Everyone thinks they’re an amazing author. Case in point – try naming a YouTube video’s comments section that hasn’t ended up in a war of poor grammar and fruity language between two or three intellectually-challenged mouth breathers. And for what end result? Not much, other than being able to say what you like without authority rapping you on your knuckles with a wooden ruler.

So, where does it all go from here? As long as Waterstones and W H Smith are still on the High Street there is hope. The Kindle is getting as popular on the morning train as ignorance and a faint smell of excrement. Words will always be around. The way they’re presented might change, but they’ll always be there and talented writers should still shine through.

I’d just better make sure I’ve got some talent knocking around somewhere then…