Jane’s Slips

Jane Clifton ruminates in the Listener on the fast-changing nature of journalism (hat-tip: Russell Brown). Clifton is threatened. Indeed, she pines for a good, old-fashioned demarcation dispute:

“… political activists are doing journalists’ work for them by blogging and commentating as though they were professional journalists, and being taken increasingly seriously as such – including by professional journalists, who routinely cite them as authorities in news stories.”

True. Inexorably, we are following developments in the US. There Arianna Huffington’s website, for example, retails news, breaks news and carries blogs. Huffington herself is Clifton’s worst nightmare. She describes herself as, “one of the most widely-read, linked to, and frequently-cited media brands on the Internet.”

As I argued in response to Vernon Small’s confusion, the boundaries between blogging and journalism are blurred because of the false, value-laden, image of “journalism” and “news” to which journalists still cling in order to claim some legitimacy (and, in my experience, often to justify to themselves what it is that they do).

Once one dispenses with the fallacy that journalists are reporting objective news for some higher purpose, there is little to distinguish many bloggers from journalists and vice versa.

Take, for example, “professional journalist” Anthony Hubbard’s “profile” in Sunday’s SST of Tony Veitch’s PR person. Hubbard uncritically accepts the spin doctor’s picture of, “the honest PR agent, helping the client towards clarity, and their intelligent conversation with a well-meaning reporter who in turn conveys a complex truth to the world”, commenting, “It’s certainly a great picture.” In whose interests is this piece of puffery served up? If you’re unsure, read a “blogger’s” commentary. It’s clear which is the more honest.

Inevitably, then, Clifton gets it wrong:

“And, as we’ve found with Dead Fish-gate, some activists are even turning unwary journalists into political activists by selectively leaking them choice tidbits of covertly taped conversations. Unable to resist, journalists are effectively running party spin holus-bolus.”

Apart from the fact that she can’t know who dunnit, and therefore whether it was “party spin”, journalists have been using covertly leaked material — for whatever purposes — for a long time. Most recently, generations of journalists have been inspired by the example of Woodward and Bernstein.

“We’re in a new era where what’s generally taken as journalism has been democratised by the internet, and as with old-fashioned radio talkback, it’s hard to tell whether the information providers are accurate, biased or simply malicious.”

Is Clifton really unaware of the rise of “opinion news” in the US? Perhaps when she watches the most-viewed cable “news” service in the US, Faux News, she thinks that it’s accurate, unbiased and not designed to promote any particular party?

“I can’t even decide whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, this job-poaching. First up, best dressed, let the market decide, and all that. But morally and practically, it’s now the Wild West out there, because we can no longer easily tell where journalism ends and politics begins. We used to be separate species, but now we’re hybridising.”

And a good thing too, if it brings into the open the bias that has always been there. Those venturing onto the internet in search of information must know — confronted as they are by the enormous range of views — that everything they read is biased in some way. This was not the case when, not so long ago, we (in Auckland) depended on Granny for our daily news, and most people believed that it was serving up unbiased, objective fact.

That Clifton apparently still believes this the case is the biggest surprise.

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3 Responses to “Jane’s Slips”

  1. roger nome Says:

    Absolutely. Who the hell is Clifton trying to kid? Objectivity is, always has been, and always will be, a myth.

    In the 19th century, and early 20th century, political parities, social movements and interest groups simply produced their own newspapers, and you got a wide, varied range of opinions as a result.

    Then the necessity to turn a buck through advertising killed these smaller publications. They became more general and commercial, with bigger readerships. So you get media outlets trying to give the impression of objectivity, in order to appeal to a wider readership, and you also get a move to the right, so as to not upset advertisers.

    Now the internet is reversing this, and we’re heading back to what journalism used to be about – i.e. partisan groups expounding their world view, letting people take what they want from each side, and forming their own opinion. This has got to be healthy for democracy.

  2. jafapete Says:

    Nome, You’re absolutely right about the long history of what we would now call biased reporting. I thought about whether to include some reference to that in the post, but it was getting fairly wordy…

    Interestingly, I just went to the taping of a media7 programme on the closure of an award-winning newspaper in Levin. The reason, which the programme unfortunately didn’t have time to go into in huge depth was financial. The financial imperatives in the newspaper business have tightened greatly as elsewhere in the Anglo-American capitalist world over the past few decades, so now there is little chance of riding out a downturn; the six-monthly profit returns must be met!

    What this means is that Clifton’s ideal world is disappearing, like the Arctic ice.

  3. Watch out old media, blogging has arrived! (Well, in the USA) « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] Okay, we’re talking the US here and not NZ. Here the National Party gave its (unpaid) house blogger a pass to cover its conference and access the free bar, but denied Standardista Clinton Smith credentials. NZ journos have only just started to notice the new kid on their block, as the recent confusion over shifting roles shows (here and here). […]

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