Saturday 7 July 2018

What’s Wrong With Today’s Journalists?

Too Close For Comfort: The cruel fate of Zoe Barnes, the young journalist who flies too close to the dark sun that is Frank Underwood in Netflix's remake of House of Cards, stands as a fictional warning of the all-too-real dangers of journalists extracting all morality from their profession and becoming mere stenographers to power.

THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG with New Zealand journalists. For the best part of three decades our universities and polytechnics have been churning-out graduates who, at least in theory, should be the best-educated, best-prepared and most ethical journalists this country has ever produced. It must break the hearts of these graduates’ academic mentors to see how little of what they have attempted to inculcate in their charges has taken. With one or two honourable exceptions, the young journalists striding forth from New Zealand’s journalism schools are anything but the crusading heirs of Woodward and Bernstein (Who?) All those guest lectures by Jon Stephenson, John Campbell and Nicky Hager have left hardly a trace.

Ironically, it may be their teachers’ strong focus on the media’s role in capitalist society that is to blame for these newly-minted journalists refusal to take aim at the Beast. One does not need too much in the way of intellectual firepower to grasp that “the system” into which they are emerging (and to which most of them are already heavily indebted) has already won most of the battles that count. Neither does it take a state-of-the-art crap-detector to work out that most of the people openly preaching revolution in the 21st Century are safely ensconced behind the ivory walls of academia and drawing six-figure salaries. Nice work if you can get it!

Also ironical is the thoroughness with which these graduates have deciphered the messages which the system is sending them. Those who gave them the code-breaking skills were doubtless confident that the sheer awfulness of global capitalism’s rules-of-engagement would be more than sufficient to turn them into crusaders for a better world. Instead, the professors’ prize-winning graduates have embraced capitalism’s systemic awfulness with all the amoral intensity of a reality television contestant.

The modern journalist’s catechism goes something like this:  Is capitalism awful? Of course! But we have also learned that it is globally triumphant. That its values are the only values that count. That setting your face against the powers-that-be is about the worst career-move anybody still paying-off a student loan can make. And since we are left with no viable choice except to “join them”, attempting to “beat them” makes no sense at all.

Having drunk this particularly bracing cup of Kool-Aid, however, many of the most talented graduates of our journalism schools are left with an extremely bitter taste in their mouths. The words of their lecturers and professors are not forgotten, but, being ignored, have congealed into lumps of professional Kryptonite. For these super-journalists, too close a proximity to the left-wing ideas they were forced to write essays about at university leaves them feeling weak and vulnerable. No match for the system’s dark defenders – and nothing like their hand-picked candidates for promotion!

This professional defeatism and collaborationism is detectable in all forms of contemporary journalism, but nowhere is its bite more deadly than in the media’s coverage of politics. It almost seems that, presented with the vast and churning throng of political aspirants, the modern journalist is irresistibly drawn to individuals demonstrating the same willingness to embrace “the real world” as themselves.

These politicians may mouth the platitudes of their particular political tribe but not with the fervour of the true believer. Indeed, whenever they speak there is always just the hint of a cynical smile playing across their lips – a smile which the equally cynical political journalist reads without difficulty. Here is someone who has also signed the Devil’s contract in their own blood. Someone to watch and, whenever possible, promote. (Do that well enough and you might even end up working for them!)

For the true believers, of course, a very different fate awaits. The modern journalist is quite simply appalled by the lack of realism; the incapacity to grasp how the world actually works; that these politicians and the political activists who follow them display. Even worse, their insistence on taking seriously the cherished ideals of their student days, is received by these media inquisitors as a kind of moral rebuke. Their response, predictably, is to do everything within their power (and the most successful of these super-journalists wield a great deal of power) to prove that the consistent espousal of ideas critical of the system can only end in failure and disgrace.

The most unforgiveable sin of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and, yes, even Donald Trump, is that all of them have found ways of speaking over the heads of the modern journalist. Even worse, the positive response of ordinary people to their anti-establishment messages, far from signalling failure, constitutes the heart and soul of their success.

In the New Zealand context it is the media’s unrelenting harassment and disparagement of Winston Peters that offers the most convincing confirmation of this thesis. The more important question, however, is how the Parliamentary Press Gallery perceives Prime Minister Ardern. Is she a consummate mouther of tribal platitudes or a true believer? That she has been able to keep them guessing for so long is, at once, Ardern’s greatest political achievement and the gravest threat to her own and her government’s survival.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 6 July 2018.


Kat said...

Its all about opinions nothing to do with facts or reality. Sadly the fourth estate just can't be taken seriously these days.

Richard Mayson said...

It's a subject that deserves wide debate but I'm not sure its just a generational thing as some of the worst offenders esp during the Key era, were senior Press gallery journos whose only accomplishment was to suck up to Key and fall for his seductive laissez faire crap.

They came from the NZH, Fairfax(before stuff)AP, TVNZ, Media works, Newstalk and even with recent changes that have dispensed with some of these, \some of the analy retentive to capitalist neo liberalism, remain, even though their hero J Key has gone,Regrettably in TV3 & TVNZ two of the best "guys" have gone.

There is however a glimmer of hope on the bright side with in depth investigative journalism in Newsroom,The Spin Off, Scoop, Stuff and yes the NZH, though their willingness to provide ongoing platforms for the lowest common denominator right wing in Hoskings,Hawkesby,Du Plessis Allan and Soper, dilutes this,

With one exception in RNZ's gallery team the standard has remained objective and good and with a new sharp Executive Editor coming in, this will uphold standards even more.NZME/Newstalk sadly fits your negative descriptions.

Sanctuary said...

"...For the best part of three decades our universities and polytechnics have been churning-out graduates..."

There is the problem right there. Class and over-specialisation.

Journalists nowadays are largely drawn from a group that by definition are complacent winners of the economic status quo - the middle class. They go the degree factories that our tertiary institutions have become to get a degree that offers core skills like analysis, information gathering & writing along with a heavy emphasis on purely technical training like web design, video editing etc.

They are "educated" with a pay-to-graduate program that is utterly shorn of anything other than purely procedural learning and demonstrations of baseline technical competence.

We churn out unimaginative graduates who are ignorant of context, unfamiliar with alternative world views and ideologies, and loaded down with a whole pile of middle class lifestyle expectations. All they want to do is get a steady job, a portfolio of writing under their belt that will segue them into private sector comms, PR and marketing roles.

Ideally, no one should be able to graduate with a specialist degree until they complete an undergraduate arts degree in a "core" topic like history, philosophy, politics, civics, etc - similar to the USA, where typically a degree program is five to seven years.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I suspect that one reason that journalists treat Winston Peters the way they do is personal – he tends to treat them with contumely, and avoid answering their questions on the whole. In fact I think radio New Zealand did a series or at least a program on politicians and one segment was about how they avoided answering awkward questions. They pretty much used Winston as THE example of how to do this. A bit mean perhaps, but he does tend to do it quite a lot. And while he's doing it he'll often make reference to how stupid the question is. Despite the fact that we are all hanging out for the answer.

Slugger said...

I had a friend over from the UK recently.

He said compared to BBC news, TVNZ & TV3 news is like watching a televised version of a Woman's Weekly magazine.

Polly. said...

unless there is a cold hard fact to report, such as the death of someone, then we are all subject to spin from journalism.
Much the same from our politicians, Phil Twyford comes to mind, he couldn't lie straight in bed.
Since the coalition government was formed, political principles have foundered.
The Green Party are made up, top to bottom, of lieing unprincipled scoundrels.
NZ journalism has caught their virus.
The virus is well known it's called "the bullshit virus".

greywarbler said...

Sanctuary said this which I think is the most salient point on the discussion about journalists' shortcomings.
We churn out unimaginative graduates who are ignorant of context, unfamiliar with alternative world views and ideologies, and loaded down with a whole pile of middle class lifestyle expectations. All they want to do is get a steady job, a portfolio of writing under their belt that will segue them into private sector comms, PR and marketing roles.

Ideally, no one should be able to graduate with a specialist degree until they complete an undergraduate arts degree in a "core" topic like history, philosophy, politics, civics, etc - similar to the USA, where typically a degree program is five to seven years.

And Winston, used by GS as receiving his just desserts because of his manner, is using similar approaches to Robert Muldoon. Journos then couldn't throw their hands up in the air and conduct their own retaliation for hurt feelings.

I did a polytechnic media course as an adult student some years back. I found the many female journalists inclined to be cliquey and to follow what I understand is a modern attitude - wanting conformity and to mix with others who fit their narrow understandings. The few men were easier to talk to and work with, but all needed the "history, philosophy, politics, civics" that grow the mind and widen the perception. They didn't seem to have interest and curiosity in their fellow students or indeed conversational skills.

jh said...

At a forum on internet hate speech an online viewer asked Paul Spoonley for a definition.
Spoonley [53;00]
Anything that spreads promotes or justifies and then there's racial hatred xenophobia anti semitism and of course what we've done recently is expand that out to include religion disability gender age and sexual orientation. The second part of that is that it incites hate, and often violence.
On the proposed visit by Lauren Southern and Stephan Molyneau Paul Spoonley claimed:
They are part of a broad coalition who at their top end would be pro Trump but at their hard end (which I regard both of these as being) are very (sort of)[1] white supremacist or believe in the racial superiority of white people. They believe [2]immigration undermines countries, they're very anti-immigrant, [3] anti-refugee and they're [4] anti-feminist

They would be happy to prosecute a drunken Maori yelling at some Muslims. Southern and Molyneau are not so dumb. Phil Goff avoided a "monkey trial" where we would have seen which ideas are banned.
On the other hand we can see here how such issues are handled
The right people tell and the right people control.
Is it any wonder the TV switch stays off.

On another note what sort of message is RNZ sending when less than 4% speak Te reo yet they persist in using words that there has been no negotiation over (unless you assume we are subservient to government decree). They simply ignore "the uglies".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Fuck me, all the problems this country has and people are worried about a few Maori words on radio New Zealand. Sometimes I just fucking despair.

Nick J said...

JH, I'm totally appalled by the appropriation of power to curtail free speech by the likes of Spoonley and Goff.

That they, and the Leftist activists in general have co-opted the feeble complicity of the state's institutions to enforce their control over who can say what is deeply concerning. If we need reminder of the intolerance and authoritarianism at the heart of the alt-Left this lays it bare.

I believe the Molyneau and Southern should be able to come and speak to like minded people. Having checked them out on YouTube I'd describe their views as Don Brash meets Ayn we really want our world so proscribed that these opinions are silenced? Surely that is a greater tyranny.

And as for those "triggered" and feeling unsafe, the world is a hard place. And if you can't face up to the nasty Rightist gremlins you will be easy pickings for your own Leftist gremlins.

jh said...

Meme warfare. Retweeted by Emma Espiner

greywarbler said...

Stop whining and give your mind a houseclean, then start off on a style of encouraging people to be more co-operative and be both kind and practical.

Obviously too many people coming into NZ to buy houses, or live here and work is going to create a rise in demand on basic services and limit jobs in an employment-erratic and wage-low society. It is large and constant increase that is the problem, and caused by slack government raking off dollars to make the nation's books look good.

That's it in a nutshell. It isn't immigration per se. Better, intelligent and nation-serving government is the answer, not the bags-for-me bunch we've had to suffer for so long. Put your considerable energies in getting better policies and pushing for whichever government will implement them.

greywarbler said...

Idealistic defenders for the absolutist freedom of speech get all lathered up about it. Some may have been injured when someone insisted on utilising that freedom. And did the event improve human relations, stop some egregious behaviour?

I am just reading an old report about Richard Valeriani, journalist, died 18 June 2018 aged 85. When covering some Civil Rights protests in Alabama, he was hit on the head with an axe handle. He was asked by a white guy if he needed a doctor and when he said yes the man said "We don't have doctors for people like you". A black man was later shot in the stomach and died, by a state trooper and protests started again.

The Civil Rights protesters who had to go through so much to get some semblance of fair treatment might think it an insult if they were expected to have freedom-loving stirrers berate and despise them to a recalcitrant, and potentially violent crowd.

When there is entitlement in society to discriminate against whoever, there will always be some who would like to attack or harrass certain others for perceived faults or some bad behaviour. Allowing free speech as a given is tantamount to giving freedom to the disaffected to violate others rights to be in society, to move safely, to live and participate safely, and to not be assaulted or killed with impunity.

It is sad to think that because a wrong or disadvantage is righted, it then is considered okay for those who disagree to actively discriminate and harrass the recipients at will. They shouldn't be given rights with one hand by government or elites, and then punished for them with the other.

greywarbler said...

It is not 'people' worrying about Maori words, it's jh the Caped Crusader against 'them'. Probably he wants those sweeet square toothsome things in cafes called brownies - banished!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

He's not the only one though Greywarbler. Kim Hill interviewed Don Brash about it and he was pissed off, although he couldn't seem to formulate a decent argument against it. And no doubt our old friends Charles and jigsaw would be harrumphing away at it. :)