By Sharlene Gandhi
Our national media have been collectively blessed with Jeremy Corbyn’s presence for a little bit too long now. Whether it be for his apparent support of terrorist groups, Blair’s warning of an apocalypse if Corbyn wins, or even how his facial hair is an inspiration to Miliband (really, The Telegraph?), Corbyn is, to the detriment of the other three candidates, the face of the Labour leadership campaign. Amidst these often outrageous news stories, a comment made by Corbyn seems to have passed fairly unnoticed. He made the grave mistake of telling journalists, who could effectively make or break his campaign, that he was ‘disappointed in [their] profession’. Bad move, Corbyn.
I can assure you now, before you roll your eyes, that this is not another piece strung onto the stream of media coverage on the Labour Leadership campaigns, nor another misinformed leftie making the case for Corbyn. What I merely want to do is deconstruct Corbyn’s statement about journalism, using it as leverage to explore why journalism has become what it has become today.
The recent outrage surrounding paparazzi harassment of two-year-old Prince George seems like a logical place to start critiquing modern journalism. For those unaware of what surfaced, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge requested the world media leave the Prince be, especially since certain journalists had been employing ridiculous techniques to try and snap that all-important money shot. Nash Riggins wrote a brilliant article in retaliation, in which he argued that the Royal Family should stop ‘teasing’ consumers with their minimal approach to releasing photographs. While I can see the logic in Riggins’ argument, we need to see this issue less as one concerned with the Royals, and more as one concerned with a child. The Code of Practice of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (the British press regulator) clearly states that journalists must take extra care when communicating with, or writing about, anybody under the age of sixteen. Why, then, has this moral standpoint been waived for the royal family? Surely, we should be critiquing a culture that modern, tabloid journalism has encouraged, whereby consumers of the media are seeing those in the media less as human beings and more as commodities to consume. And unfortunately, journalists ARE to blame.
Tabloid journalism was very much a phenomenon that grew in the last century. This century, with the rise of internet technologies, connectivity, social media, and citizen journalism, we have a new issue on our hands, that of clickbait journalism. Whilst tabloid journalism and Prince George’s privacy are issues regarding journalistic integrity, the problem with clickbait journalism is quality of content. Of course, quality is, at its core, a subjective principle, and this is therefore just my opinion. Clickbait journalism is ‘aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy’ of content, and, to my dismay, actually works. This type of journalism flourishes because it functions on ‘bitesized’ content, which is easy to consume and fit into our hectic lifestyles (which aren’t actually as hectic as we have led ourselves to believe.) There is a great book by Benjamin Barber on how the media is effectively infantalising adult consumers by shifting towards this type of content; according to Barber, our concentration spans are getting increasingly short, and we simply do not want to commit to longer articles/ those that may challenge us intellectually. Cue listicles, the use of gifs to explain complex concepts, and the rise of websites like BuzzFeed, which are, no doubt, great at what they do. To make an extreme and dangerous oversimplification, the journalistic content we consume is being dumbed down, and arguably, so is the consumer.
Invasions of privacy and a lack of quality journalism are just two of the many issues with modern day journalism. We have yet to discuss the scandal and rise of unpaid internships within journalism, which make it increasingly difficult for students and recent graduates to enter the profession. Secondly, we at Foreword have been fairly vocal about our own distaste for ‘student journalism’ and how it reduces the entire student demographic to nothing more than a stereotype (see The Tab. Or rather don’t). Thirdly, the rise of citizen journalism, although great for the democratisation of the media, has also given rise to various ethical issues. My personal favourite dilemma of modern journalism, however, seems to be at the heart of everything: the raging debate of what constitutes free speech.
To bring us back to Corbyn’s initial statement, I suppose what he has unintentionally done is rile up an army of journalists, who are now charging against him full force. Perhaps this is a terrible move politically, but at least he isn’t playing the horrid game of getting the media on his side, and is instead being honest.
For lack of a better analogy, I’d like to compare modern journalism, in its current state, to modern feminism. Both journalism and feminism, at their core, are pure concepts with noble aims: the former aims to shed light on issues, to keep the public informed, to empower and to educate, whilst the latter quite simply aims to empower women and those who self-define as gender-oppressed. However, in both cases, this noble, root cause is being corrupted by a few, who take the concept a little bit too far and turn it into something negative. Journalism, of course, is not a crime, and should never be perceived as one. But if certain journalists continue to push the boundaries of the profession, under the pretext of ‘the greater good’, it sure is not setting itself up for a bright future.