Penis ennui

30 07 2007

Reporting on the activities of your own media organisation is very hot at the moment. But just like the three-year-old newly fascinated by their gender, media groups reporting on themselves are never an edifying sight.

First there was the BBC and its apologies and unbearably dull self-loathing. Which consequently sent me into a spiral of self-loathing. For example, why am I paying for self-reverential, navel-mining bollocks from Beeb Bertrams emoting to one another about ‘trust’? Back-to-back, corporation-wide introspectives where producers compete to broadcast the bigger mea maxima culpa session are more damaging to Auntie Beeb than anything anyone actually did.

To sum up – I trust the BBC. But I know it’s fallible. Only the guilt-ridden troupe of ex-Footlights fops who lead this organisation ever believed they were incapable of mistakes. I’m still just about listening to the BBC, but only because of the World Service.

So, just to be clear, I’m not interested in media self-flagellation. Or in compromised media trying to objectively discuss itself (thereby presenting itself on a platter to itself and so committing a vomit-inducing act of autophagia.). That’s why I almost ignored the Independent News & Media reporting about itself.

The (IN&M-owned) Sunday Tribune reports that reporters at (IN&M-owned) Drogheda Independent Group have agreed to take photographs as part of their job. Haven’t seen anything in the (IN&M-owned) Belfast Telegraph yet.

So to the reason why they’re expanding the job spec for hacks. Blah, blah, flexibility, blah, blah, choice… But definitely not fewer staff and overheads?

Regional chief executive, Ger Walsh said: “Anyone can take an acceptable picture these days and there is technology on the camera itself and in the production process that can do anything to improve the quality of a photo. It would be particularly useful where reporters are able to arrive at the scene of an incident before the photographer can.”

That’s a reasonable argument if you’re sending Martha Gelhorn to Finland, but does it carry much weight otherwise?

Not unexpectedly, one freelance photographer doesn’t think so. “People are so disgusted and dismayed that we have been asking ourselves what is the point of being a member of the NUJ. They’ve sold us out.”

But wait, the NUJ have come to the rescue! NUJ’s Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said: “I can’t accept responsibility for technological change. We have to strike a balance between embracing change and controlling it or having it thrust upon us.”

Erm… not quite the robust defence I was expecting. The NUJ are clever people and it isn’t difficult to work out what the likely implications of rolling over might be. So why did they do it?

The NUJ website refers to a 15-month-old campaign that I had absolutely no idea existed in the first place. What were the results of the Journalism Matters campaign? Is it concluded? A successful conclusion for the campaign would be for journalism jobs to be safeguarded. How do you measure that? Can the NUJ quantify the jobs it safeguarded? Will the NUJ save jobs on picture desks? How will it safeguard jobs for freelance photography?

Journalism was always a profession consumed with a Biblical sense of its own importance. But its imperfections are legion. Uniquely, it’s a place where stupidity and genius compete on equal terms. Genius doesn’t always win (as anyone who’s read the Sunday Life’s ‘She’s Sinead’ column will tell you). But it’s also a place where massively profitable media groups compete and are driven by balance sheets and to defend executive bonuses. So I recognise things are complicated, but first-principles exist to provide clarity.

So what’s going on inside Independent News & Media? Will David Gordon launch another of his fearless forays into how the expenses of the Bel Tel picture desk stack up? Or what about Tony O’Reilly’s expenses? And while we’re at it, can the decision to publish that unreadable syndicated Robert Fisk article, as compared to the insightful one full of local flavour by Malachy O’Doherty, be simply based on economics? If it is, then boy oh boy do we have problems.

This is big stuff. This has massive implications for the preservation of the standards, ethics and professionalism of journalism. It’s now thought good enough to take ‘acceptable’ pictures. Photoshop does the rest. Is that full, proper and honest reportage? Will IN&M not be misleading its readers if photoshop is routinely reconstructing/deconstructing the actualite of (crappy) pics from unqualified hacks?

I recall recently the BBC’s Martin Cassidy doing set up for an interview. He’s a news journalist. Oh, and he also happened to be the cameraman and the sound engineer. Martin’s good at what he does. But are the Beeb’s high ideals of quality not ever-so compromised by removing dedicated technicians from the news gathering process?

While the BBC, ITN and Sky go chasing unpaid ‘citizen reporters’ fortunate enough to have camera phones whilst being unfortunate enough to be near disaster sites (jackpot!), cutbacks are being made elsewhere.

Journalism isn’t a sexy topic as people generally are sceptical/suspicious. Some people dismiss journalism as filled full of failed authors, would-be lawyers and should-a-been teachers – typically guys in school garage bands who carried an instrument but refused to play a note – who found themselves a profession without working for a living. Bollocks. It’s a truly vital industry and I’m not best pleased with the direction its going and the inability of its chapels to react. This is important. Is journalism principally a business or a profession? Should it be driven by digital technology and advertising, or by reporting and principles? Maybe I’m doing a Bertram and emoting too hard – has IN&M done anything wrong?




2 responses

30 07 2007

Now now Bob, I think you are reaching on this one.

As lofty and wonderful as the idea of journalism being driven by reporting and principles is, a newspaper will not exist without dirty old advertising and money. Advertising staff are generally looked down upon by reporters with high opinions of themselves, altho not city reporters might I add, but the fact the small everyday miracle that is the production of the paper is as much down to them selling ads to put in the paper as it is journalists finding stories to put in the paper.
Similar to politicians, you can be as wonderful a politician as you like but unless you are elected you cannot be the wonderful representative you wish to be.
As for digital technology, it along with all matter of distasteful new gimics such “citizen journalists” are sadly the way the public wants to the media to be. Sales of papers are falling year on year while viewership of blogs and online news resources are getting higher year on year. Newspaper owners want to still be newspaper owners thus they must invest in such services, some to a greater degree of success than others….BBC News website = excellent vs Belfast Telegraph TV = drivel

6 08 2007

Sorry, City Reporter was on holiday for a bit.

Ah, but it’s the quality issue. No one complains about the tacky Rite Price Carpets ad next to the horseracing on page 58. But people expect quality from the news pages. Consumers do notice when bollocks reporting shows up (the bitter Sunday Times report on the George Best funeral is my personal favourite in this category). Or (ahem) when budget-slashing newspapers go PA heavy and lose their identity.

Max Hastings’s memoirs as Daily Telegraph editor offer a pretty good glimpse of the competing pressures involved in moving away from old-style churning and towards cutting-edge production.

And a fearless defence of sales galley slaves. Yes, without the ad sales there’s no way profitable newspaper groups could offer that pitiful sub-average industrial wage insult to idealistic junior reporters (and which also slams the door shut on many talented young people who subsequently seek alternative career paths).

Anyways, I expect better from IN&M. Cutting jobs, slashing overheads, arbitrarily changing terms and conditions of long-serving stringers – I would expect this from the Express and Daily Star titles. Not from IN&M.

And if the NUJ refuses to stand up for freelancers what is the point of paying the subs? The axis of power moved away from the factory floor a long time ago. But i think we’re getting to a stage where we can ask what is the point of a union in 21st century Britain.

Hutton reports, BBC mea culpas, citizen reporters, texts, polls, celeb-dominated news pages etc etc. Journalism is losing its edge; its core reporting principles are being diluted. New technology should be embraced to improve reporting but instead its had the opposite effect of enabling buckets full of opinionated, low-grade bullshit to get churned out faster.

And that’s my two cents! (No sense of irony? You’re fired. Ed)

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