We’re all keyboard warriors now, really. Our mandatory isolation has filled us with a sense of anxiety for updates, a thirst for knowing what comes next. As such, we’re watching daily coronavirus briefings and reading numbers like frantic scientists at a blackboard. The need for good journalism could not be stronger. And yet, it’s under constant attack.
It’s hard to watch this siege. Twitter is a social network yes, but it’s a professional space for self-promotion too. I’ve connected with a number of writers and journalists who I would now consider colleagues in a wide landscape. It’s not quite a meet-and-greet for a conference, but it still gives you an immense boost whenever a real journalist, a professional likes a comment or blesses you with a retweet. Aspirants are slaves to the algorithms — we crave the engagements.
Seeing writers and reporters being rinsed like linen on a daily basis fills me with dread. The anger directed at reporters from particular news outlets, or associated ideologies, colleagues and directions, is boiling over into a wide distrust in news media. Take for instance the exclusive by the Sunday Times last week, revealing a shocking lack of preparation by the government on coronavirus. Instead of needed attention towards this issue, much of Twitter was otherwise engaged in debates over paywalls and locked content. The Sharks and the Jets were facing each other in the street, clicking and egging on for responses. The readers, or hopeful readers that is, angry at such a scoop being locked in a vault. The writers like solid footmen guarding their keep. Both sides valid, both sides angry.
All the insults are deployed, all the associations and address books are hurled at the screen. Murdoch’s name is used as ammunition. Columnists are given a strong rebuke to whatever they write, including if it’s not even immediately related to ongoing trends as if writers must be locked into topical comment without divergence. Reporters are suddenly agents of propaganda simultaneously asking the wrong, the unwanted, and the unnecessary questions all at the same time.
Forgive the analogies. Truly, such anger can’t be expressed in simple terms, for it is so obvious and jagged. I’ve been writing comment pieces since university for both money, leisure and *gulp* personal development. It’s something I think I can do, a rare confidence. So seeing the industry under pursuit by angry mobs from all political inclinations is really hard.
But here there has to be balance — in true impartial style. Journalists want to get paid, do their job, report the world as they see it. However it’s not always clear where that perception is going. Columnists in particular present a commentary which can mislead or discriminate. Such opinions only seem to inflame the masses rather than actually contribute to discussion. The contrarians such as O’Neill, Pearson and Young stand on platforms built from their own bigotries. And the industry around them knows this too. They equally quote the bad takes and bullshit, distressed by such hilarious infamy and sharing screenshots like a buffet.
It raises the topic of freedom of speech and press with all sides piking into each other. Yes, freedom of expression does not mean freedom from criticism or rebuke. That much is written in the holy stone tablets of commentary that Moses must’ve left on Mount Sinai after disagreeing with a Rod Liddle piece about smacking kids or something. But when these pieces are written with the express intention to offend, who are they really representing? The readers, or the rage?
It’s sad that it must be said that journalists are people too. The majority write and report because they love their craft. In fact, they really must love it to have to put up with such vitriol in their mentions. This humanity is important not just because it grounds what the industry does, but exposes this contradiction in commentary too: how can a writer who’s dreamt of being a journalist submit to writing bigoted articles?
There’s no answer to this whole debate. Journalism is a symbiotic relationship between writer and reader, existing to be exclusive yet dependent on the other. Like jelly and ice cream: both okay on their own, better together (if that’s your opinion).
It should be said that print journalism is in dire straits. Many people in the industry, not just writers, are teetering dangerously on the edge of despair. While the craft adapts, so must the readership. That humanity which lies at the heart of what good journalism does should always shine through. The majority of journalists are just trying to do their jobs. And flippant, pestilent attacks on the industry do not produce better writers. It only puts aspiring writers and other poor bastards like me in a quandary about whether to pursue their passions, or let them fall into the hands of the privileged few who write through connection alone. For there will always be journalists, but where they come from depends on more than a job advert — a deep aspiration which will only collapse if the landing isn’t soft.