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org Reformulating The Story Is More Urgent Than Moral Reform
An Open Letter to Fellow Journalists Dear Journo, The Leveson Inquiry may be the most farreaching investigation into ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’ (if only today’s investigative journalism was so wellresourced), yet it is way wide of the mark. The most pressing problem in journalism is not moral collapse but the collapse of ‘the story’. ‘The story’ is journalese for capturing events: it is the form in which an event appears, as and when we journalists have captured it. But today the story is on the point of escaping us; and we have done little to stop it. The idea of capturing events strikes many, younger journalists as impossibly authoritarian. After the advent of Web 2.0, even senior editors began to share these misgivings. The cat is out of the bag, they said. With the media landscape opening up, there is no need for the kind of closure that capture contains: it’s foolish even to try. To keep hold of readers, go for Twitter instead. Then along comes LevesonPlus (the man himself and the whole ensemble of his inquiry) with the message that capture is not merely mad, it is also morally bad. Thus the News of the World was doomed in the attempt to capture the story in a killer quote from Milly Dowler’s voicemail, allegedly. Unless it is regulated/reined in, the ambition to ‘nail it’ will be the death of journalism, supposedly. On the contrary, it would be morally reprehensible if journalists did renounce their ambition to capture the essence of events; as if
doctors could take back their Hippocratic oath while continuing to practise medicine. Moreover, journalism practised without this ambition is quack journalism: it collapses the distinction between casual media content and professional journalism, i.e. journalism worth paying for. So YPay for it? Indeed there is a now a generation that does not expect to. If you weren’t the journalist whose job depends on it, you wouldn’t, would you? And if we continue operating along these lines we will find ourselves writing the longest, professional suicide note in history – our own. Previous issues of Proof made the case for the continuation of professional journalism, assuming that professional journalists continue to distinguish themselves by capturing the essence of events. The current issue is primarily concerned with how that happens, at a time when it seems to be happening less, and there is growing resistance, even among journalists, to it happening at all. For journalism to remain a must-read, it must devise new story forms, capable of capturing the essence of the early twentieth century. Even more important than the moral choices facing journalists, journalism is destined to become optional if it does not rediscover its own essentialism, and devise new ways in which to formulate it. These are the tasks to which this Proof is dedicated. All human life has to be here, in our pages and on our screens; or we don’t have to be here at all. Please feel free to agree or disagree, extend or challenge the ideas and analysis contained in Proof. Andrew Calcutt email@example.com
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The Importance of Being Essentialist: another manifesto
Introduction Previously in Proof, a small number of journalists made the case for reinstating the much-maligned concept of objectivity – a strong case based on four, substantial points: Journalism is the objectification of human experience. The journalist makes an object – the story – out of what is happening to human beings; and objectivity is the quality of objectification. Thus the rejection of objectivity is a rejection of objectification; as such, it is also the negation of journalism. Journalism is a secondary form of objectification: it makes an account of the world which human beings have already made. Primary objectification (human activity) and its secondary form (journalism followed by other kinds of knowledge of the world we humans have activated) together amount to the realisation of the human subject. In its widest sense, objectification compounds the primary and the secondary: it is the sum of what the human subject has done, in thought and deed. Thus subjectivity and objectivity are not only opposites, they are also related; and the value of journalism is the strength of their relationship. Conversely, the strength of their relationship is the value of journalism. Accordingly, when their relationship is weak, the value of journalism is lowered. Against a background of ‘citizen journalism’ and user-generated media content, the value of professional journalism has never been lower. In response, journalists have further weakened the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity by disowning objectivity in favour of subjectivity. In effect, we have been shortselling our own stock, deflating what we do in a misguided attempt to re-float it for the digital age. But objectivity is the USP of the
professionals. As we distance ourselves from it, so we endanger our own jobs in journalism and the social role of journalism. On both counts, journalists must rediscover their objective side – or risk extinction. If you have got this far, Dear Reader, you’ll know why the Proof-ers who made this argument did not make much headway with it. As formulated above, its positive message – objectivity is human not alien, requires prior recognition of ‘the human subject’ – a universal concept which few people are now able to recognise. In other words, to understand Proof’s positive message in this form, requires prior conceptualisation of universal human activity. If you can get the message, in other words, you don’t need to hear it, aka preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, the journalists we were trying to get to, could not get past the negative connotations of objectivity, no matter how often we said that its bad press was totally unjustified. What follows, then, is a new way of conveying the original message of the first issue of Proof: the journalist is essential, but only if journalists live up to their social role; moreover, since the public will only pay for essentials, professional journalists had better live up to this social role or they risk becoming superfluous. However, apart from our internal limitations, events in the outside world also demand a different level of Proof. If our first issue came out when journalism was entering an economic crisis, during the past two years UK journalists have been dragged into a moral crisis. In both senses – moral and commercial – journalism is now called upon to prove its worth; and Proof will duly respond to each aspect of this dual crisis. In the good old days (2009-10) when we only had one crisis to deal with, it was widely believed that digital technology had done the dirty on paid-for journalism. Now it is widely
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org 3 of 26 . nonetheless. The essence of events is the necessity of journalism If journalists must capture the essence of events in order to remain essential.proof-reading. Moral rearmament will not be the ultimate salvation of journalism. has damned the ‘profession’ a second time. This kind of circular definition is absolutely not what journalism needs. finding new forms of expression in which journalism can distinguish itself once more. Journalism’s reformers stress that this constitutes neither gatekeeping nor state censorship.g. But in our analysis.e. but the deformation of journalism as a whole is a more pressing problem than the defamation of individuals by particular journalists. journalists have been doing whatever it takes to stay in the conversation. legitimate. e. a risk assessment for that) which has already proved so obstructive elsewhere. the hard news story in the form of an inverted pyramid. i. instead we should be teaching ourselves to reformulate the story. if journalists first focus on finding form. Similarly.held that the sordid activity of journalists. increasingly. but the stage is already set for ‘statutory underpinning’ of journalism. in part. Moreover. ‘closing the loop’ means that academics are increasingly bound up within procedural circuits. Ethics and economics will solve themselves. In higher education. any more than digital technology was the only cause of its commercial decline. but ‘statutory underpinning’ will import into journalism the compliance culture (an audit for this. journalists may well recoil from such terms. Having studiously avoided philosophy. Better to say that journalism was essential as and when it was essentialist. to be lectured by the new worthies of ‘self-esteem’ and ‘well being’. Journalism is essentialism We habitually say that ‘journalism is essential’ but recent developments suggest otherwise. especially those employed by the Dirty Digger. For journalism to thrive. Phone hacking may have got out of hand. the journalist has always been a tacit essentialist. it can only be moving towards formlessness. journalists must not be dragooned into reform school. as journalism becomes anything you want it to be. journalistic activity designated so that journalists will be obliged to adhere to this designation in order to gain legitimacy. preoccupying ourselves with morality is equally misguided. Journalism faces formlessness To keep up with what non-journalists can now do for themselves in social media. there is less certainty about what anyone will want it for (or why they would pay for professional journalists to do whatever it is). unless it also finds new forms to be identified by. if the fixation with digital technology was unhelpful. i. the deformation process may continue unchecked until there is little left to reform. the second form of damnation is as spurious as the first. the-people-formerly-known-as readers can take it or leave it. almost. This is the biggest threat facing journalism today. if journalists continue to be preoccupied with the moral reform of journalism. They may be right. Reformulating Journalism: the essentialist manifesto Journalism faces reform The Leveson inquiry is yet to conclude. Unfortunately. The real priority is to reformulate the story. Journalism needs reformulation The trend towards formlessness in journalism amounts to the deformation of journalism. when journalism was expected to capture the essence of events and journalists found a distinctive way of realising this expectation – at least.e. Recent movements in this direction have been championed as the liberation of journalism from formal constraint and elitist restraint. for example. this means Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. But when journalism loses its close association with recognised forms.
proof-reading.org 4 of 26 . and their long-term employment prospects are equally uncertain. and therefore inessential. Thus the essence of events entails more than the old formula. but this really means capturing the essence of an event. But if journalism shapes up. Conversely.that journalism needs essentialism or it is bound to become optional. the current issue of Proof makes a small contribution to the fulfilment of this daunting task. but it is not reducible to them. where etc). Many journalists are now performing a kind of post-journalism. By analysis and experiment. The best chance we have lies in the attempt to capture the essential character of events and to make this capture in new and distinctive forms. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Their work is in poor shape. Reformulating the story along essentialist lines is the only way to make journalism essential again. it could regain its essentialism. and it is different again from the new digital discourse around events and non-events. In our faux modest way we are wont to say that we have ‘nailed the story’. where ‘essence’ includes the basics (who. what. which lacks definition because it has lost the ambition to define. what looks and sounds like journalism has already slipped into something casual. without aiming for essence and minus a distinctive form in which to attain it.
The idea is to devise a new form of reporting which gets to the essence of what’s being reported. Not that previous forms of reporting have failed to do this. following Cyril Connolly’s construction that literature is to be read twice and journalism less often. the reporter can move his material very quickly. Again. at this time even old stagers cannot play the same part as well as they used to. some of you are saying. Accordingly. they would need no further presentation. Here is the Cartoonist’s first answer: The Cartoon is designed to allow the reporter to shift instantaneously from close up to long shot.proof-reading. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Formats such as the inverted pyramid were largely successful in their own way. New ways are needed for journalism to regain its essential character. it is also positioned in the media landscape – today’s common land. The Cartoon caters for the reporter’s peripheral vision: it enables him to make sideways references to other. the fact that the author of this experiment feels the need to introduce it. Others among you will have recoiled at the prospect of ‘literary journalism’. what the author hopes you will receive from Part One. such as advertising copy. so there is no need to re-set it here. format – the Cartoon. Enough caveat. But why is this form – the Cartoon – thought to be of the essence? That is the question for this Introduction. If his Cartoons really represented a new way of doing journalism. it seems reasonable to explain to you. the other part consists of how you receive them. writing the Cartoons forms only part of the experiment. The problem is that their times and ours are not the same. drafting and redrafting in order to formulate them just so. Accordingly.org 5 of 26 . please note that the current issue of Proof is primarily concerned with form. from particular detail to general observation. surely? But please note that nothing like the Cartoons experiment has ever been conducted before. already suggests that it may not have been entirely successful. Proof’s Cartoons comprise a form of writing which requires the writer to read and re-read his own words. in your role as Part Two of the experiment. Moreover. incorporating these into what becomes a new composition. prior representations of human experience. Thus the reported event is located not only in space and time (where and when. This in the further hope that something will be gained from the Cartoons experiment – perhaps enough for an improved version of it. Furthermore. let’s get on. However. also that the Cartoons comprise an experimental form of words for potential use by journalists. Working within one. as well as literary sources. and only one. speaking for themselves. for their own times. pop songs. as of old). even if the early results of the first iteration were not up to scratch. iconic images.Calcutt’s Cartoons: an experiment in literary journalism Introduction What follows is a small scale attempt at a different way of doing journalism – a new version of journalism which might have less difficulty distinguishing itself from the rest of the digital landscape. Timing is crucial: the Cartoon is based on the assumption that most of its readers will have already received the latest basic information. Hence the hybrid: ‘literary journalism’. The argument that essence is essential to journalism – summarised as ‘the importance of being essentialist’ – is set out elsewhere in Proof. reconfiguring his observations the instant he arrives at them. they would be self-sufficient. in much less time than it would take to make the transfer across a series of multimedia platforms. Oil and water.
substance and tangibility. I have been trying to arrive at a form which allows us (the writer and his readers) to hover over the media landscape and touch base with the fine detail of human experience. Its selling point is composition. In both projects. and partly because of the proliferation of cars like the Model T. looks set to become the non-event of all time – the world’s first mega-non-event. the goal was to capture each event. I would like to think so. he makes a last ditch attempt to give the Games weight. Not blowing the mist away. As I finished the novel. until it all comes crashing down around him. instead of all photographs defaulting to the level of 6 of 26 . But for now. but thickening the air.coming at them along different. still less a transformative experience. Their problem is that the Games are not tangible enough to become truly memorable. as and when they appeared in the news. On and off over the past few years I have worked on a comic novel about the attempt to generate a shared national experience by hosting the Olympics in London. visible on the London horizon since 2005. moreover. and with decreasing reference to paid-for. here’s how the cartoonist came upon the Cartoon as a form of writing. was eventually published on April Fool’s Day 2012 and is now freely downloadable at http://londonsatire. online TV). developed a set of typographical devices – twists and turns in the use of type – so that the form in which the story is contained. to materialise it in the description thereof. Thus the work which has gone into the Cartoons is a continuation of the work which went into Games Makers. a way of working that other people would be willing to pay for – I honestly do not know. Whether this could work as a new way of working for journalists. now that it has been composed into a Cartoon. just as the camera became generally available.proof-reading. which. This story of mine. At that moment more people than ever before were starting to take photographs. I have in mind the kind of photography which emerged in the 1930s in the work of Kertesz and others. Clear as mud? You are welcome go ahead and read the novel. Londoners remain stubbornly unengaged. which transported millions of folk to new places where they were keen to take pictures of each other. I was trying to constitute it as something we can grasp. By describing London-lite. It does not attempt to compete with these on speed of information delivery. can be obtained for free. but a stream of events. In other words. Similarly. suffice to say that panic breaks out among those in charge of London 2012 when the mega-event they’ve staked everything on. Meanwhile the Director of the Cultural Olympiad cannot bear London’s lightness of being any longer. where essence is not to be confused with the basics. also contains the very thing that is lacking in the lives of its characters: texture.org finished product (if you download Games Makers from our site. making London foggy again. to get at the essence of it. texture is what we were aiming to create. By way of a second answer to the same question – why this form now?. However. digital pathways (text. tangible. As a precedent. It addresses the reader as follows: though you will already have seen or heard of this event in bits and bytes. This bears repeating: with this text. increasingly. in much the same way.com. Twitter. Games Makers: a London satire. the superb designer who worked with me on the Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. With the Olympics about to start. partly because of the increasing availability of cameras such the Kodak Brownie. I started to apply some of the same techniques in an effort to describe not just one event. professional journalists. Alex Cameron. Again. its essence is revealed here for the first time. I won’t ruin the suspense by summarising the plot. be sure to click on his PDF version). please note that writing Games Makers was my attempt to make the intangible.
Similarly. But the Proof of the writing is in the reading: it is for you to decide whether the sketches I have come up with could form the template for a different kind of reporting.org 7 of 26 . This would make me a far. may also be the moment when a special form of reporting emerges – a higher form. and even if you accept that the writing is not bad. to andrewcalcutt@gmail. Whereas with the Cartoons my ambition has been – still is – to influence the history of journalism. far lesser version of L. Lowry. remains prohibitively idiosyncratic.S. done that). and with it a new kind of photographer. by showing that journalism can become not the first draft of history (been there. but history’s first composition. if you have any. yet it is ultimately unreal. the moment – this moment of ours – when almost anyone can report the basics using digital media technology. it might also be the case that the form in which it appears. and with it a new kind of reporter. If having read the Cartoons you come to this last conclusion. and that it could be described as journalistic. there emerged a special form of photography – a higher form. or perhaps you will say this is simply not journalism. Please read the following Cartoons and compose your responses. if you happen to have the time. You may think that the writing is just not good enough. and its results may be worth looking at.holiday snaps.proof-reading. who was both a uniquely brilliant artist and a dead-end in the history of art.com Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. not serviceable. you are effectively saying that the experiment was a brave one. because it is not reproducible: nothing like this form of writing can be practiced by other writers.
summer 2011. disturbing. Prince Harry gestures to Caribbean photographers at the start of his first solo tour. the president of France was obliged to withdraw. Jason Russell's face testifies to the expansive wealth of the Sunshine State. Of course his teeth are pearly white. His arm has performed a cautious curve. Central Criminal Court. no different from a billion others. and co-founder of the charity. in attendance: President Sarkozy. 60 years of judgment reserved. Reuters studio Firm chin. (3) Anders Breivik: the fascist salute that hardly was Dateline: 16th April. Syria. Nestling among the preserves. Like the estranged husband that no one finds time to acknowledge. Perhaps that’s how he murdered his victims: diffidently. 77 dead in a killing spree directed ‘against multiculturalism’ Breivik’s description). the elderly Queen Elizabeth. Small eyes behind considerable expanse of flesh and forehead. Receding hair and a thin strip of beard with a patch that’s missing – either his beard is also balding. Oslo Enter the……disappointment Fat face. Bulky. Responding to the rattle and shuffle of countless camera shutters. Breivik’s right arm touches the left side of his chest. then lacked the will to tough it out. full jaw. A man ill-at-ease with himself. she was carried off the plane sheathed in protective padding . straight-armed gesture – only for a moment. graduate of the University of Southern California. (2) By A Nose Dateline: 2nd March 2012 When injured journalist Edith Bouvier was brought home to Paris from Homs. and a smile so wide a family of Mexicans could move in there. his teeth kept hidden by thin lips. Back in London his grandmother. the Lord's Resistance Army. Although the cameras are keen. Completing this modest arc. looks quizzically at the food hamper produced by Fortnum and Mason to mark her Diamond Jubilee (1952-2012).daughters rush forward to hug their mother's prostrate form .for Sarkozy to make a show of it. But this homecoming was too intimate .org 8 of 26 . But the Reuters clip shows an understated movement. but isn’t. Russell is famous for bearing witness to the plight of African child soldiers pressed into Joseph Kony's militia. exciting. On the runway. grazing it lightly before unbending into the familiar. Co-producer/director of world-renowned viral movie Kony 2012. but so what? On that score.Cartoons (1) Royal Preserve Dateline: 2nd March 2012 Halfway between a wave and the brush-off. He is ginger and slightly gauche. He has Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. keen to find something striking. Invisible Children. Suit. Breivik sits down with downcast eyes. not the absolute angles associated with ‘fascist salute’.only her nose poking out from under the red wraparound. or he made a mistake when shaving. ‘Defiant salute. Raised in San Diego.’ they said of Anders Behring Breivik’s far-right gesture to the Oslo court on the first day of his mass murder trial. keen. collar and tie in a style that might be 1970sretro. (4) Jason Russell: textbook study of arrested development Dateline 10th March 2012.proof-reading. Breivik half-smiles. Perhaps he swore to himself he would salute. there is nothing to show for the extraordinary carnage caused by this seemingly unexceptional person. (Norway.
serve to reinforce the idea of performance. in a way.' 'Figured' – early morning reruns of Wagon Train and Rawhide sure left their mark. we are looking at the face of Zayban al-Kkawaja. from the tilt of her head we Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. which effectively cancels it out? Russell’s relaxed manner says: you decide. if only by chance. perfectly formed. Right now. and in our minds we would fill in the sound of him singing. (5) Mourning Man and the Dissolution of Self Dateline 20th April 2012. super-facial. and a lock of hair has spilled out and splashed over the right side of the young woman’s face. not 'muddled' or 'polluted' by grown-up hang-ups. 'Visit an African genocide' – is this Kardashian-style self-obsession? Or candid admission of same.' But this self-confidence is only skin deep. father. thrust forward to capture his moans and wails. he does not even have a point of view from which to look back at us. But the hand in the photograph is someone else’s. such as objectivity or getting the story right. left – her face is effectively screened off on both sides.come in to a Reuter’s studio to respond to queries and criticisms of his film. it is. His kind of deference would make kids of us all. If it was his own hand caressing his right cheek. But Zayban is not the one wearing the visor. Having exposed the plight of particular children. Thus children respond unequivocally to his film because they 'have very clear understanding'. Russell has to hide behind the condition of childhood in general. child. So much protein invested in such a prize specimen of American manhood. it is just the gateway to the conversation. Microphones on either side of the mourning man. reaching out to comfort this man whose wife. 'When you get older. sheer loss has rendered him shapeless. friend – who knows?. and although we can’t see her eyes. upper lip stretched across the horseshoe arch of his top teeth.' he explains. Without seeing right through this accidental screening. 'and I wanted that postgraduation globetrotting adventure. Bahrain. looking at this picture we’d put him in the midst of a vocal performance. you get muddled and polluted by the way the world is supposed to work. the framing of the photograph – this is grief. 'I had just finished my film degree at USC'. Thus the religious rules are moreor-less observed. He shrugs off the complaint that Kony 2012 is one-sided: 'this video is not the answer. But still Russell defers to a child's 'understanding'. is presumed dead after an airliner fell out of the sky while preparing to land at Jinnah International Airport. right? All that bone and muscle and gristle. mouth wide open. She has made them into fists. his selfconfidence comes with 40 million internet hits. But for the man we’re looking at. I'd visit an African genocide. Jinnah International Airport Eyes more than half-closed. Russell recalls. The curve of his open mouth. I figured instead of backpacking Europe. daughter of human rights activist Adbulhadi al-Khawaja. Islamabad. it clearly means an awful lot to him.proof-reading. Right. stopped by helmeted riot cops on her way to the anti-F1 Grand Prix protest in the markets district of Manama. (6) Sisters of Surprise Dateline: 21st April Bahrain Her head is loosely covered with a shawl. His feelings are not framed at all. this belongs to a police officer standing directly in front of her. The left side is obscured by the glare of bright sunlight shining through a police visor. Whatever it is pouring out of this man’s throat. thick. For us. Zayban is holding her hands at chest height.org 9 of 26 .
Hold on tight. James Murdoch is being asked to answer for a series of internal emails re: his thwarted attempt to overcome restrictions on UK media ownership and gain full control of BSkyB. so that the female Robocop can conceal the rope of her own dark hair. son of. In town today is James Murdoch. Decked out in the stuff of Robocop (matt black padding and webbing). This Milky Bar Kid can’t help himself frown. recently resigned from. also demand segregated policing – only female officers to manhandle female protestors. The question is: given that the (Liberal Democrat) secretary of state for business was not well disposed towards ‘the Murdoch press’. practices and ethics of the press’. who was likely to look more favourably on a bid from your family firm? Although James clearly feels the need to keep a grip on himself. so that the weight of his left. While it is hard to credit such a clear cut distinction between business class and the political elite – as if they only ever speak to each other through formal channels. Young James’ voice becomes more insistent. Pausing between sentences. which we can’t quite see. The officer’s thumb and forefinger are already wrapped around Zayban’s right wrist. The rules that dictate segregated protests in Bahrain (male protestors separated from women). have you forgotten what it takes to get anything done? (8) Messrs Rueful Dateline: 1st May 2012 His hands on the table are the mottled hands of an old man. his spectacles are fashionably large. the frames transparent like the Milky Bar Kid’s. At the current session of the Leveson Inquiry. then?’. ‘Are you going to cuff me. he seems to be telling himself. therefore.proof-reading. upward frown. a small.can tell she is looking intently into the eyes of the officer blocking her way. Leveson Inquiry. chaired by Lord Leveson and commissioned by prime minister David Cameron to investigate ‘the culture. due to the phone hacking scandal and related events at his Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. human form. a pert nose. With his left hand he is holding onto the lower part of his right arm. In order for the religious rules to be observed. however. He maintains that he would not conduct business in a directly politicised manner. his mouth defaults to a downward curve – a pictogram of sadness and regret. but for the tacit questions underlying his answers: Don’t you people know better than to wash this kind of linen in public? In the tired. Meanwhile his right hand is tucked under his left elbow. the restraining officer must be a woman. he seems to be handling the pressure. London Young James’ eyebrows are raised in a continuous. would seem to be saying. The Milky Bar Kid is coming to town. lest extravagant hand movements lead to loose talk. (7) Pretend Answers and Real Questions Dateline: 24th April 2012. he appears to gain in stature. father’s News International. Underneath the visor. though his eyes are sharp as pins. upper arm is keeping it down. her look.org 10 of 26 . were you not jockeying for position with the (Conservative) secretary of state for culture. which is resting – it’s being made to lie still – on the table in front of him. as he makes this distinction and elaborates upon it. Beneath them. There is even a pouch beneath her helmet at the back of her neck. Not for what he is ostensibly saying in response to his inquisitors (the flat denial simply sounds flat). old country that you guys live in.
Murdoch Snr had seemed like King Lear upon the blasted heath: lost. those MPs may be rueful about what they said today. Mister Rueful. by launching the Sun on Sunday to replace the News of the World (deceased). Murdoch seemed to be saying. members of that select committee are trying to roll it back on top of him. They looked nervous. This was a more positive performance than last year when.org 11 of 26 .proof-reading. there’s no guarantee that the British government – or even the British people – will let the old king go down. shutting him out of the corridors of power.Last week. In his shirtsleeves among the newsmen of Wapping. In months or years to come. conscious of the whole world watching. And the way he said it: so much the cartoon he could have been Roger Hargreaves’ latest character. akin to suicide for a man like him. If I hadn’t let myself be corporatised. for the man he wants us to think is him. or. even while making their pronouncement. But then. Days later. giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. managing to maintain his stance as a newspaperman. he was seen resurrecting himself. Rupert Murdoch kept his composure. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Two months later on 1st May. Rupert was careful to regret the damage done to others. Media and Sport (a group of senior MPs). In front of Lord Leveson. quizzed by the parliamentary select committee for Culture. ruing the day he allowed himself to be compromised by corporate concerns. with their announcement that ‘Rupert Murdoch is not fit to undertake the stewardship of a major international company’. just as Rupert has come to rue the day he looked the other way. punching his lights out. Rupert rolled the stone away from his own tomb. However much they want to be the MPs who dethroned Murdoch. Particular answers to detailed questions (so much detail from all those emails) were generally a way of saying: that’s who I am – a newspaperman. he killed a newspaper. none of this would have happened.
is no less inadequate than putting it down to a few reckless motorists. celebrity magazines put a new gloss on UK journalism. Titles such as Hello! allowed readers to download the domestic interiors of the rich and famous. i.e. The celebrity route Meanwhile. Thus the Sun’s infamous headline. there’s no messing about. Space restrictions are an additional restriction on further development. Where both broadsheets and the BBC would now allow or even encourage their reporters to say ‘I’. different drivers of UK journalism since the late 1980s. As early as the late 1980s.Why Hackgate? Collision At The Crossroads: tabloids crash into celebrity journalism It had to happen. they expect the hunt to come to a decisive end in a key phrase or ‘killer quote’ that clinches it. it also told the story of the tabloid tradition in one. the journalist is still expected to write the story as if he himself does not exist. We are constantly reminded that there were more than a few bad apples rotting in the News International barrel. this essay surveys the main approaches pursued by the two.org 12 of 26 . Though the results can be messy. even today.proof-reading.) In tabloid news. The recent shift towards the cult of personality (in journalism and wider society) was bound to collide with impersonal news reporting in the narrow. The road is the thing. Combine this with left-of-centre hostility towards ‘the Murdoch Press’. and LevesonPlus (Lord Leveson’s inquiry plus the report of the parliamentary select committee for Culture. Media and Sport. There are other ways in which the ghost of Journalism Past continues to haunt the tabloids. fewer square inches of newsprint than a broadsheet. The tabloid has fewer columns in which to try out alternatives. we need to map the route leading up to it. Tabloid journalists continue to see themselves hunting quarry and capturing stories. In order to explain the collision. and the conditions were ripe for the multiple pile-up which includes Hackgate. The Tabloid Route The tabloid road is especially demanding. ‘Gotcha!’. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Moreover. there would be no space to make the same point ‘in other words’. (NB if this were a tabloid. the pressure to compress was consolidated into a distinctive tradition. the tabs are journalism’s natural conservatives. In other words. The style of writing required of tabloid journalists is unusually compressed. represented by the rapid rise of celebrity magazines. the tabs are more like fast food. tabloid tradition. Though this headline only appeared in the paper’s first edition. Over time. etc etc). the rest of the world had moved on. But (if you’ll allow my original metaphor) ascribing the car crash to a whole fleet of journalists. Accordingly. frequent calls for media reform. If broadsheet newspapers sometimes take on the characteristics of a dinner party. three decades later the tabloids were still living the life which it symbolised. and shows how they would inevitably come together. more often than not the tabloids still say ‘no’ to such usage. Furthermore. head-on. the end of the News of the World. Tabloid style is the result of pressure to cram news into a smaller space. deathly word. using an impersonal frame of reference which has been largely lifted from other news platforms. not only described the sinking of the General Belgrano. Literally. thereby uploading themselves into a newly privatised culture – enacted in Thatcherite legislation. Direct and to the point. there is less room to deviate from this tradition. This means that the tabloid tradition is stronger than most.
and this left the tabloids in something of a vacuum. with the drama laid out on the breakfast table instead of the stage. journalism is no longer the staging of the story.proof-reading. they are acting in much the same mediating capacity as their counterparts in the City. celebrity journalism has been deliberately inconclusive: in our next issue. etc etc. which coincided with the emergence of financial services as the UK’s ‘engine for growth’. So far we have shown celebrity journalism borrowing from the tabloid tradition. epitomised in the re-vamp of Heat under its second editor. Once described as ‘irony in the soul’. your feelings etc. this tone of voice was adopted by the next generation of celebrity magazines. In turn. at first they seemed to hit it off. Coming to the crossroads Celebrity magazines (early incarnation) and the iPhone (first iteration) are separated by two decades. Yet the new magz took the form of their postmodernism from the tabs. During that time there was a considerable amount of lane-hopping between the tabloid tradition and the newly personalised form of celebrity journalism. the new version of celebrity took a knowing look at celebrity itself. Between the lines. end of).org 13 of 26 . segues into our current usage of social media. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 showed that one of the staples of modern journalism – the battle of political ideologies – was fast becoming a hollow exercise. In the 1980s the new emphasis on celebrity also signalled a revised role for journalism. celebrity magazines anticipated the continuous flow of social media. When news is a ‘conversation’ and journalists its mediators. neither do we. in the following issue. Although the tabs and the magz were always going to bang into each other.Whereas in the tabloid tradition. sorry. Thus each magazine article serves only to connect the one before and the one after. In different ways. this kind of journalism is particularly liable to crash. Instead of the adulatory tones of Hello! and OK!. this kind of knowingness may also be considered ‘postmodern’. but not exclusive to magazines. we go inside XXX’s wardrobe. we will turn out her handbag. aka journalists and ‘users’ (the people formerly known as readers). the subs were saying: we know you don’t believe what you read in the papers. what was only on the side has since become central. This is the point at which journalism. instead it becomes a conversation about some personalities (celebrities) undertaken by other persons. and partly a straight lift from the nudge and the wink of the music hall. the new journalism has been running away with it ever since. Led by. partly in tune with what was then referred to as ‘the postmodern condition’. who had themselves resurrected it from the good old days when popular journalism was a kind of theatre. In its new-found you-and-us mode. But this was no mere coincidence. especially magazine journalism. both the rise of celebrity journalism and the expansion of financial services represented the growing role of mediating activity in a society at some distance from industrial production. Headlines such as ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’ were largely an aside to the audience. which had been a formative influence on the tabloids’ original incarnation. direct speech is now the default mode of address: your magazine. Within the space of a few months. they are intended to be circuitous). Having taken up the aside – the point at which the performer steps out of the action and comes to the side of the stage to address the audience. In such media circles (as we have seen. the world of politics was largely emptied out. Mark Frith. finality is the supreme virtue (this is the story. and just like the markets for fictitious capital. tell us about your life. in such a Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. readership. They filled it with a knowing tone of voice. In this respect. or what the politicians are telling you.
Only now. we will have to find new ways of meeting those terms. really – to combine the close-up on personality with the traditionally impersonal tone of hard news reporting. Hence the fateful decision – more like compulsion. But just as the magz re-made what they borrowed from the tabs. continuous exchanges. the boss of the Daily Mirror became a ‘celebrity tabloid editor’: Piers Morgan turned the Mirror into a celebrity-based paper and became a ‘sleb’ himself. But we do not have to sit on our hands. Accordingly. this habit was more than a hangover from the past. Without the presence of the past. Even if it did become distorted. uncomfortably reliant on the alien world of televised celebrity. we are not condemned to watch the sequence again and again without protest. as LevesonPlus looks set to run and run. political journalism (deceased). especially that part of it which appears on TV. journalists hacking into it. in search of the elusive personal detail that would somehow be conclusive. Slow motion crash It took Milly Dowler’s phone to set off the crash. they had better not – come to a head. their tradition obliged them to treat it differently.org 14 of 26 . the dead girl’s phone symbolising the new life (ours as well as hers) comprised of countless. we should still celebrate the tabloid ambition to get the definitive story. Uncharacteristically removed from the tradition of popular. the tabloids would have feared even more for their future. lest they cease to exist as a distinctive type within the print. in which murder is the best story because it is the ultimate compression of human life. Although the crash was going to happen in some shape or form. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Furthermore. Having allowed the tabloid tradition to be corrupted. Versus the new journalism.proof-reading. on the other hand. In the current case notes. tabloid journalists could not give up the habit of trying to get the story and finish the job. During the 1990s. but they are worth holding out for. and define it in the shortest. some positive aspects of news reporting have been misdiagnosed as morbid symptoms. when the tabloids took up with celebrity. too. simplest terms. The tabloid tradition. Although they signed up to perform some of that circulating journalism in which stories need not – indeed. we are asked to sit through saga of journalism’s own sickness. even the ambition to ‘nail the story’ comes in for a bad press.way as to make its borrowings into something else. Forced to resign after he was hoaxed (Morgan was unable to kick the tyres on a traditional tabloid ‘scoop’). nonetheless. But there was traffic in the other direction. which prefers illness because it is comparatively indefinite. he went on to be a TV personality. On the one hand. the tabloids felt they had to hold onto something of their former selves. tabloids became heavily indebted to the world of celebrity.
the hit count had doubled. the officer shot the prisoner anyway. Kony 2012 is a film about Ugandan children forced to join the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ by militia-leader Joseph Kony. There is no telling what it will be by the time you read this. but Kony 2012 gained another 30 hits when I introduced the world famous viral video to a group of undergraduate Journalism students as part of our News Reporting class on Monday 12 March 2012. the sequence served as the exception which proves the ITN rule against showing the actual moment of death on TV. a documentary on the making of ITN’s News at Ten which we had discussed earlier that afternoon. The nay-sayers could refer to And Finally (2006). he could not be a reporter. in which reporters and newscasters from the 1970s recalled trying to hold a neutral line against increasingly manipulative politicians. and some of these contra-indicators had already made Hardly worth counting compared to the 40 million it had already clocked up. It is also the primer – the foremost campaigning tool – for Invisible Children. But when we watched it in class. I wanted my students to observe how Nicholson’s intervention was at first hesitant. but in order to show that his default position – the position which he instinctively gravitated towards in difficult situations – was that of the neutral reporter. This question proved almost as controversial as the colonial one.But Is It Journalism? Kony 2012 and the definition of news reporting the impartiality which they associated with news reporters. But our Monday module was entitled ‘News Reporting’ rather than ‘New Imperialism’.proof-reading. In the News at Ten retrospective which was broadcast 40 years later. In addressing itself to Washington’s Capitol Hill. and. Defenders of the film contend that it is only right for Westerners – citizens and politicians alike – to use their relatively privileged position on behalf of Africans whose suffering would otherwise remain invisible to the rest of the world. the charity co-founded by Russell to profile the plight of African child soldiers and persuade Western politicians to arrest Kony for crimes against humanity. seemingly non-existent: he stayed out of the picture while the cameraman moved back far enough to show the prisoner being tied up and killed. Both groups had history on their side. Therefore. the high premium accorded to journalistic neutrality was confirmed by the very next sequence of this retrospective documentary. (A week later. I duly asked my News Reporting students if they viewed the film we had just watched as an example of news reporting. in the end. Indeed. after brief consideration of the Kony 2012 colonialist controversy. a graduate of the University of Southern California film school. because it made no claims to Proof Set 3: May 2012 www.org 15 of 26 .) Directed by Jason Russell. According to these precedents. whatever Jason Russell was doing when he made Kony 2012. Some students replied that it could not be news reporting. Kony 2012 has been accused of perpetuating the myth of the West as Africa’s saviour – a re-make of ‘the white man’s burden’ for the age of social media. reporter Michael Nicholson is seen eliciting assurances from a Nigerian Army captain that his Biafran prisoner would not face summary execution. In footage from the civil war in Nigeria in 1966. Although Nicholson gained the assurances he asked for. But there are other precedents which suggest otherwise. Others insisted that Kony 2012 is a revelatory report on child soldiers which fulfils the most important role of news journalism: it ‘speaks truth to power’. Not being neutral. I mentioned this not as a criticism of Nicholson (he was unarmed and in the midst of Nigerian troops). he was not producing news.
He did not use the term. it is only natural for children to be in the lead.their presence felt in our News Reporting seminars. but it is almost 50 years now since reporters began to write themselves into their own reports. the film itself is seen to be virtuous because it relates to children: not only in the sense that child soldiers are its subject matter. But what should we make of the way that Russell himself has become the subject of the Kony 2012 controversy. Instead of feigning impartiality. Russell’s film is consistently at odds with the most traditional form of news reporting. indeed some have made this the core business of reporting. In this piece-to-camera. By contrast. the Sunday Times foreign correspondent killed in February 2012 during the bombardment of Homs by the Syrian army. Only a week before. but Russell was giving a positive example of what is pejoratively known as ‘pester power’. one of my students observed that much of Kony 2012 is taken up with what the ‘muddled and polluted’ world of adults does to children. assumed an adult orientation to the world on the part of readers and writers alike. The classic. since. In the 1960s this was an enormously significant departure. To many of her peers. in her role as a reporter. many of today’s journalists feel entitled. When he issued the call.’ In response to this. His film is only step further along journalism’s recent trajectory. Thompson cast himself in the central role of his own New Journalism. attached journalism and ‘embedded’ reporters are immediate precursors to Jason Russell making us care because now we know about child soldiers and the evil Joseph Kony. if Russell is to be discounted as a journalist because of his personal appearances. San Diego? The latter episode sounds like the return of Gonzo. but also in the way that Russell incorporates his own child Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. in her reports she advertised her commitments and lobbied politicians. Accordingly. who typically respond by calling upon their parents to act with them in response to the plight of child soldiers. we had studied the life. culminating in reports of his ‘breakdown’ after a bystander filmed him running naked through the streets of his hometown. Russell’s orientation to the inner child is borne out by a Reuters ‘rough cut’ (‘no reporter narration’) of him responding to criticism of Kony 2012. if not obliged.proof-reading. senior UK journalists celebrated her work as a ‘crusader’. recognising her as a ‘player’ who not only described foreign policy. times. With a blueprint provided by Bell and epitomised by Colvin. she went on to personify what he had only anticipated: ‘journalism that cares as well as knows’ (my emphasis).org 16 of 26 . also addresses himself to the inner child in us all. However. as Bell described (and decried) it. and untimely death of Marie Colvin. Russell observes that the film’s foremost advocates have been children. Seen from this angle. aside from describing the suffering of children. ‘when you get older you get muddled and polluted by the way the world is supposed to work – and children don’t see it that way. Having given up the pretence of neutrality – ‘bystander journalism’. she also intervened in it. For Russell. to go into conflict zones and separate out the good guys from the evil men. although Kony 2012 has some affinities with various episodes from the history of news. as he put it. it is consistent with the way that Hunter S. Martin Bell had called for a ‘journalism of attachment’ in the mid-1990s. whereas Russell. pyramid structure – the dominant form of news reporting in the midtwentieth century. he was already close to retiring from the BBC. but Colvin was only then coming into her own. on this basis we would also have to disqualify some of the biggest names in the past halfcentury of journalism. In their obituaries of Colvin. Colvin was an especially good reporter because she took sides.
it is news reporting infantilised. his composition is addressed to his own child. A blog he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009. Gavin) into the storyline. not simply to make it more accessible. the least important people are the reporter and the reader. Conversely. even more so if we accept that Kony 2012 is indeed journalism. but also because he holds that a child’s way of understanding is ‘very clear’.proof-reading. as indicated by the formal manner in which he is introduced: ‘President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’ – full name and official title. How he recalls his first encounter with the story which became the centrepiece of Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. moreover. But Russell does more than this. Half-a-century later. Accordingly. Identifying childishness with truthfulness is not something that journalism has always gone in for. anticipating the better world which he hopes his son will inherit as a result of human rights advocacy. the trend towards infantilisation – the subject of a book I wrote 15 years ago (Arrested Development: pop culture and the erosion of adulthood) – seems to have been a formative experience on Russell himself. forced to join the youths of the Lord’s Resistance Army after they cut his brother’s throat. addressing itself to children makes it more authentic than if it were framed for the ‘muddled and polluted’ world of adults. both writer and reader are assumed to be old enough. is matched by a childlike solipsism on his part. subtext – the most important person on the planet. to have left their personal predilections behind. For Wicker and his generation. sufficiently mature. Russell’s insistence that the child is truth. in this instance. and the former would have had no business doing so.org 17 of 26 . the childlike trust he places him in them. if Kony 2012 is news reporting. Accordingly. neither journalists nor readers would have recognised the inner child as a model for truth. Furthermore. corresponds to the geopolitical hierarchy of the day. Smiley. Far from it: when the pyramid was the model for news reporting. is counterposed to the suffering of child soldier Jacob. Associating children with virtue may be as old as the idea of childlike innocence. in Wicker’s rendition of what is happening. The latter is in no position to play a part in the story’s essential subject matter – the assassination. The subject of his top line was also the top man in the world at that time. entering the public square meant closing the door on private life and turning away from the inner child. This is a remarkable claim. The information contained in the story is arranged into a strict hierarchy. Russell addresses the whole film to Gavin. For example. The answers he went on to give to Reuters serve to draw out the further suggestion inherent in the original film: that there is something fundamentally true about Kony 2012 because it speaks to the experience of children. in contrast to the adult capacity for ‘muddled and polluted’ misunderstanding. which. the New York Times reporter in Dallas the day JFK was assassinated. moptop Gavin. suggests that Russell’s empathy with his subjects. neither what-I-saw nor how-you-must-be-feeling. truth is the child. and it employs a child-friendly mode of address. Written on a portable typewriter outside the hospital where Kennedy lay dying. every inch the progeny of the Sunshine State.(his son. Wicker’s first sentence is his most important: ‘President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today’. Wicker’s account of the assassination is composed in pyramid form – the dominant form of news writing at that time. Jason Russell is not only addressing himself to the plight of African child soldiers. Moreover. In order for them to meet at the point where what-happened is translated into how-it’swritten. even if he could. distances him considerably from the notably adult mode of address employed by Tom Wicker. Thus Wicker’s report has no need of either the first person singular or the vocative: no ‘I’s and not a single ‘you’.
Even so. in contrast to Russell picturing himself at the centre of the circle of life (‘like being in a Hollywood musical’). Moreover.’ This sounds like a clumsy statement on the part of someone (then) unused to being in the public eye. towards wider horizons normally accessible only through art and literature. and this statement was not a one-off. and Thompson. For Wicker. Although he went out and found a big story there. his advocacy of African child soldiers is intended to close the gap between northern Uganda and southern California. is characteristic of the infantilised version of adulthood which Russell himself represents. For all that.his life. This means that Russell’s orientation is at odds not only with the singular face of the classic reporter. As noted above. they used new writing techniques (new to journalism. even when the imperfect realisation of objectivity is also taken into account.proof-reading. Russell at the centre of his story has some affinity with Hunter S. attempting to contrast the vague character of his previous existence with a new found sense of purpose. However. was forced back upon his own selfhood.’ Russell may not share their luxurious lifestyle. if Africa was a rude awakening to Russell. In the end they failed in their quest for transcendence: the country of the young turned out to be almost the last place in which to find a more mature frame of mind. by making it into the story of two little boys – traumatised Jacob and the wholesome Gavin – Russell has cut it to the shape of his own existence. also recalls the natural selfcentredness of children: ‘I had just finished my film degree at USC and I wanted that postgraduation globetrotting adventure. I figured instead of backpacking Europe. getting it right meant giving himself over to the story. But only on the Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. the characteristic trait of the ‘objective’ reporter of Wicker’s generation. as part of the ‘great refusal’ of the 1960s.org 18 of 26 . it remained his awakening. especially. neither does it match the duality of New Journalism. Tom Wicker’s default position was the vanishing point of the picture. In short. Its selfcentredness is matched by the closing sentence of his Huffington post: ‘I never thought I would be wrapped up in such an extraordinary story. While Gavin’s solipsism is in keeping with his tender years. His ambition was to get to the story by writing himself out of it. it’s like being in a Hollywood musical. but such self-absorption is what we might expect from the Kardashians. which is nowhere to be seen in Kony 2012. This level of dedication. They would not accept the mode of existence they were born into. as far as Jason is concerned the Russells’ mode of existence must be the centre of the known universe. these reporters went in search of outsiders to report on. they refused to stay within the terms of the American Way of Life. I’d visit an African genocide. more grown-up side to Gonzo. London and Rome. as the only mature form of human development. Thompson in the midst of his. hence the turn to literary forms in their mode of reporting. Thompson and Tom Wolfe started filing their despatches from the country of the young. In the 1960s when Hunter S. Similarly. to enable the children depicted in Kony 2012 to come closer to the way of life which Russell shares with his son. Gavin having fun with his father is how a young boy ought to be. his father’s equally solipsistic approach – the insistence that the world will fit into a West Coast template. at least) in the attempt to drag readers (kicking and screaming. there was always another. Similarly. restricted range of references. the young Russell really does say that he decided to ‘visit an African genocide’ as an alternative to backpacking through Paris. now seems remarkably mature. and just as young Gavin can expect the world to come to him. if necessary) out of their own. not least because.
conversational exchanges between professional journalists and their unpaid counterparts. part-preoccupied with ‘youth’). or even a good. a piece-to-camera. Even the structure of the film is conversational. Despite their differences. the home of eternal youth. By contrast. on the other hand. Kevin Marsh. Using a variety of terms. published report. In various ways. Though they knew it could not end that way. But in place of the ambivalent frame of reference which they constructed (partadult. they were trying to stop the chit-chat by nailing the story. although he went on to explain that he meant not its absolute end but the demise of professional control over storytelling. outward impulse. his mindset never left California. in the Reuters clip Russell replied that ‘this video is not the answer. recently retired head of the BBC College of Journalism. director of the Polis think tank at the London School of Economics. he sees it not as the last word so much as the first. if journalism is to have any future at all.rebound from his original. both Tom Wicker and Tom Wolfe strove to construct the definitive account of their subjects-in-hand.org 19 of 26 . New Journalists aimed for stylistic maturity in the combination of cinematic close-up and literary canvass. and Alan Rusbridger. Beckett welcomes ‘networked journalism’. has been directly critical of it.’ How different from the ambitions shared by Tom Wicker’s generation and also by the New Journalists. they all wanted their copy to be the conversation-stopper. Wicker’s adulthood was writ large in the distance he maintained from his subjects. the characteristic shape of journalism is no longer to be found in a single item – the one-off story which only reaches the public after the reporter who drafted it has already moved on to his next assignment. they sat down to write in the hope that theirs would be the last word on the subject. all three have arrived at the same prognosis: if it is not to be left behind. He may have ended up personifying the petulance of the permanent teenager. and invest in the development of open-ended. Advocates of the conversational turn maintain that the plurality of forms in the ‘news Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. when Russell went to Africa. Not necessarily advocates of Kony 2012 – Beckett. Instead of journalism identifying itself by its internal composition – the story as shaped by a particular reporter in a single. envisages his film as the opening line in a conversation. editor of the Guardian. It is just the gateway to the conversation. it does so in a way which some say is the future of journalism. old-fashioned newspaper article. Rusbridger has called for ‘mutuality’. its construction concurs with the conversations occurring continuously in today’s social media. When Russell. in their call for journalism to be more conversational. for one. former Today editor.proof-reading. if in these aspects Kony 2012 differs from journalism’s past. Advocates of the conversational turn in journalism include Charlie Beckett. what they see as journalism’s future role is broadly consistent with Russell’s view of the role played by Kony 2012. and Marsh pronounced the ‘death of the story’. a tweet. but the original Gonzo had started out hunting for adult open-mindedness. Responding to the accusation that Kony 2012 is one-sided. Kony 2012 is uniformly kid-ified. Under the terms of the conversational turn. Various editors and commentators are insisting that in order to survive journalism must learn to be conversational: the very trait which characterises Kony 2012. journalism must give up the habit of top-down dictation – professionals dictating to readers what happened. However. journalism will be recognised as a pattern of interaction prompted by combinations of information and opinion appearing and re-appearing in all shapes and sizes – a blog. Comprised of various dialogues networked into a single text.
Instead they insist there will be a levelling of the traditional hierarchy between elite writing and colloquial voice. and when?. when Wicker was reporting for the New York Times. Yet without definition. With hindsight. the story taking a definite form also served to define the role of the reporter. And it worked both ways: partly because they had to write it that way. Similarly. was a means of positioning information in a hierarchy of significance. the absence of that form of accountability may itself account. In principle. so its underlying purpose was similarly well-defined. an egalitarian end to the increasingly unsustainable separation of professional substance from lightweight vox pop. the New York Times.’ But the ‘newsman’ would not have said such any such thing. for as long as he lived in the shadow of the pyramid there was apparently no need to shed light on what the formula was for. then ipso facto my account of that event must be definitive. the pyramid was the pre-eminent form of news reporting. Apart from its position at the top of the newspaper tree. they themselves needed a distinctive. purported to be definitive – never more so than in the ‘paper of record’. By providing answers to the W-questions – who?. you could not call yourself a ‘newsman’. for their indefinite status and their uncertain future. Of course there are a wide range of social. Inherent in each action news story was the claim that the event it described must have been like so. what they wrote was a must-read. what?. partly in the telling of it. however. Using the pyramid form to answer the W-questions – that is my formula for achieving it. at least in part. we should note that when professional news reporters were regarded as an absolute necessity. Furthermore. as we have also seen. an otherwise loose cluster of occurrences came to be woven into a specific. This is not as singularly liberating as it might seem.dialogue’ will not result in formlessness. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Not only does it separate information into dominant and subdominant categories. nonetheless. but the conversational turn would leave journalism notably indefinite compared to the clear-cut lines and geometric shapes of its previous incarnations. In those days. it also joins items of information together in order of descending importance. Thus every story which provided answers to these questions in the pyramid form. the pyramid. if you could not build pyramids. what happened and the story of what happened. This is my aim. since in his time the pyramid afforded sufficient definition not only for the events he was reporting on. As we have seen. sharp-edged event. but also for his own role in reporting them. were one and the same fabric. so that. because these items – what I’m showing you in this pyramid story – are the very things which defined it. economic and technological factors in play here. we can say that ‘the Ws’ were the newsman’s formula for finitude: the form defined the story which in turn defined the event described in it. was higher up the pecking order than anything else in the paper. Perhaps not entirely formless. absolutely. If the ‘newsman’ of this era had been given to philosophising. although he might have referred to ‘the Ws’ as ‘the formula’. as the composition of the pyramid gave shape to the information it contained.org 20 of 26 . where?. the reporter was taken to have defined what happened. professional form in which to file their reports – the pyramid. Furthermore.proof-reading. how will journalism distinguish itself? Conversely. His answers to these questions comprised the four corners from which the action was seen to take shape. he might have appraised it as follows: ‘When I succeed in identifying the elements which defined the event I’m describing. and hard news in pyramid form – the ‘action story’. if news reporters are not accountable to a particular form or forms.
In such circumstances. or. News reporting that is ill-defined. while others disowned it. was how journalism defined itself. But the currently non-descript nature of news reporting does no favours to those youngsters trying to get a handle on it. who knows what they are studying? We are not likely to return to the days when Journalism and PR were jealously guarded. news reporters. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. More importantly. will mean braving the predictable taunts of ‘analogue’ and ‘out-ofdate’. the assertion of finitude was the very definition of journalism. and his apparent willingness to open up a conversation. Will the wider public carry on shelling out for specialists without a specialism? Surely not. or – never mind the technology or the recession – we journalists will have sunk journalism without trace. instructs those who do not already feel the need to know. Defining what happened. i. they may as well ask news reporting to take a vow of silence. the conversational turn only makes it harder for journalists to distinguish themselves from all the other conversationalists . Jason Russell necessarily falls outside what constitutes journalism. Accordingly.proof-reading. no more and no less a journalist than Kony 2012 is or is not news reporting. news reporting. Instead.Half a century ago. student reporters may choose to adopt or reject Kony 2012 at will. By such inconclusive means. Hardly an effective sales pitch to the digital cohort already known as ‘Generation YPay’. Being a stickler for reporting in an essential form. Russell’s brand of media-led advocacy corresponds to some of the most significant developments in journalism during the past 50 years. On the other hand. the advent of digital technology – mean that retaining old forms will not secure a future for news reporting. Thus it is hardly surprising that I did not get a definitive answer to the question I asked of my news reporting students: is Kony 2012 news reporting? Perhaps my students’ lack of definitions is characteristic of a context in which news reporting itself lacks definition. if those who are carrying it out. According to this definition. are not certain about what they are doing or specific about what they are offering. no one will continue to pay for a supposedly specialised activity.e. chimes in with the prognosis for journalism put forward by various members of its senior common room. come up with some new ones. not to bother. One thing is certain. when I showed the film to another group which included students of Public Relations. But some of us will have to tough it out. open-ended persona for the journalist. its future rests on reformulating the reporter’s quest for the essential rather than the contingent. Far from distinguishing a new role for the journalist. In the attempt to secure journalism’s future. one against the other. Accordingly. some of the latter also claimed it as their own. But if both these cohorts can choose to claim or disavow the same media content generated by one and the same person. better still. when senior journalists make the conversational turn. journalism must hold on to its formal characteristics. the message goes. and perhaps we would not wish to.e.org 21 of 26 . or attempting to. Faced with further loss of definition. i. by renouncing journalism’s claim to be definitive. they think that they are working towards a new. But the emerging personality turns out to be more like Jason Russell. you are unlikely to reach a conclusion: it’s not worth it. Numerous recent developments – among them. lack of definition can only distract those who might otherwise look to journalism to get a handle on the wider world.
this is the day of judgement. Thus it serves to conjure up the evil spirit of Rupert while warding away full realisation of what is to be done.org 22 of 26 . If you are one of us. he’s the one we have to sort out. your ‘life world’ will be filled with meaning. Especially excitable are the Jeremiahs who previously envisioned a ‘neo-liberal’ conspiracy with Rupert Murdoch at its head. their declarations are unlikely to have a positive influence on journalism. But to repeat (10-9). But it is also a mirror on academia.proof-reading. Such socialists made ‘Murdoch’ their call sign back in the days of CB radio (the out-of-date metaphor underlines how long ‘Murdoch’ has been used to this effect). Mouthing ‘Murdoch’ has become the shibboleth that sorts out the ‘we’ from the chavs: it is a test of belonging. this is more ritual than real. repeat the words ‘Rupert Murdoch’. since the ritual denouncement of Murdoch accurately reflects the condition of almost the entire academic milieu in Britain. In the UK. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. ‘the Murdoch Press’. because knowing better is their job. You can try this at home: stand in front of a mirror and. Indeed it is unusual to see the global Murdoch Empire under sustained attack (even if the attacks stem mainly from that small portion of the globe called Britain). holding a Journalism Studies textbook in your right hand. Yet rather than perform this critical but constructive role.Murdoch as Metaphor Andrew Calcutt and Mark Beachill ‘Murdoch’ has replaced ‘banker’ or ‘Sir Fred’ as today’s top term of opprobrium. after so many years without much authority. the majority of Journalism Studies academics has formed up within the anti-Murdoch magic circle. Dethroning media baron Rupert Murdoch is even more of a talking-point than the humiliation of the former chief executive of RBS (now plain Mister Goodwin after his knighthood was annulled in February 2012). (2) to act as a critical friend to journalism – offering the constructive criticism which would enable journalists to improve their performance. much more. their performance has a galvanising effect only on their own kind: it makes them and their associates feel better about themselves. It says: we know what we’re here for. Accordingly. almost everyone except the Tories seems pleased at the prospect of the fall of the House of Murdoch. it means you are one of them. Such a high level of excitement suggests something highly unusual. From this position. if you are not inspired by it. what’s bad for Murdoch can only be good for their identity. by their hostility to Murdoch. For them. Thus Professor Toby Miller feels renewed by Hackgate and what it means for his old enemy: Like any socialist who has lived where I have during Rupert Murdoch’s hegemony. and they know themselves – rather. But there is also an element of ritual. they are the presiding magistrates. as if denouncing Murdoch is almost a magical incantation. Ipso facto. The role of Journalism Studies academics is two-fold: (1) to study journalism in order to understand how it works and why its workings often leave a lot to be desired. or. you are obviously not the right kind of person. but if this is not a meaningful experience. they know what they think they are. Among this vociferous group is a smaller cohort who really should know better. and finally. Instead. Many in this milieu see themselves as leftwing. I’ve taken immense delight these past months in his public humiliation and much. if you are over 50. Regular reference to Rupert Murdoch has long been a way of affirming the collective spirit.
As a metaphor. On the other hand. the longevity of this error makes it especially sad: it has been going on for decades. it is one way of evading what’s really wrong with journalism. but though similar the two things are not. was also a tacit form of acknowledging the consumption of self in modern society. If you haven’t heard this before. expressed in the recurring motif of the ‘consumptive’ individual living out a slow death. what is really only a likeness (and perhaps not a terribly good one). not master planning. where metaphor is something like what is. not literally true. it stands in for what they cannot bear to say. they are already being compared rather than mistaken for each other. The way they say it. please note that a metaphor is a simile without the word ‘like’: a form of words which identifies two things that are alike.proof-reading. It affirmed the collective spirit while the collective itself was dwindling away. ‘Murdoch’ also stands for something which is real. the list of unsayable things included: (1) all employers in the print are planning to cut costs and dump labour in much the same way as News International. In their mouths. with the Leveson Inquiry still in session. but not in the form in which it is described. repeated reference to ‘Murdoch’ is the opposite of this: instead of what cannot be said. but not because such forces are controlled by malignant bacteria such as Rupert Murdoch – or James Murdoch or the Sun or News International or BSkyB or News Corp (‘Murdoch’ is the cipher for all of these). indirect reference to what could not be said directly. but mindlessness. only compound these two forms of description into a single misunderstanding. Now. In today’s world.‘Murdoch: the mantra’ is not so far removed from Susan Sontag’s idea of ‘illness as metaphor’. ‘Murdoch’ is metaphorically. ‘Murdoch’ offered a way of not talking about the death of the Left and the demise of what it once stood for.org 23 of 26 . And it really does not help when academics who ought to know the difference. but by no means the mastermind behind a system of world domination (if only there were such a person. the evil empire’s Darth Vader. In the past. ‘Murdoch’ is what must be said in order to gain entrance to particular circles. is the banality behind the evils of capital). had already concluded with News International inside Wapping (allowing the management of News Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. identical. but not how it really is. Indeed Rupert Murdoch really is a capitalist. in modern times first ‘tuberculosis’ and then ‘cancer’ became almost unsay-able because of their deathly connotations. Thus ‘Murdoch’ is a case of mistaken identity. however. metaphor works best when the reader or listener can see both the likeness and the dissimilarity between the two things apparently identified. constant reference to Rupert Murdoch is also consistent with Sontag’s idea. But in other ways. For those disposed to deploy this metaphor. leader of the electricians’ union (EETPU). as in the days when the spectre of tuberculosis loomed large. in which one man is wrongly identified as the cause of the ‘neoliberal regime’. though as and when the reader/listener sees this of them. At first sight. This pedantic digression is important because the problem with the Murdoch metaphor is that those most disposed to use it. Murdoch is the essence of capitalism. strenuous repetition of ‘Murdoch’ is a form of displacement. is taken for the thing it only vaguely resembles. we really are subject to malign forces beyond our control. after all. Moreover. As a literary device. (2) many union leaders are cutting ‘sweetheart deals’ with employers (we promise not to strike if you promise ours will be the only union on site) – much the same as the deal which Eric Hammond. are also least able to recognise it for what it is – a metaphor. In both instances. Fortress Wapping On the picket lines outside Fortress Wapping two-and-a-half decades ago. According to Sontag.
demonstrably true. Boundless metaphor If the past is another country. including the academics among them. he also disowned militant action by printworkers in defence of their jobs. even then. Speaking along these lines to print union delegates at their summer conference in Scarborough. But such phrases. it became an endless talking point that Australian-born Murdoch continued to own British newspapers while he applied for (and was granted) American citizenship. But Labour supporters. and the movement they represented. of the Murdoch metaphor. the ‘Murdoch Press’ again served as a metaphor – a way of acknowledging but not having to explain why Labour lost to a Conservative Party that was. in the course of the same speech. on the routine demonstration outside Fortress Wapping every Saturday night (described by printworkers themselves as ‘social picketing’). a reader wrote to the Guardian to say she did not like sitting next to Sun readers on the tube. political ideas to call its own. to paraphrase a comment of the time. For example. Thus the particularities of ‘Murdoch’ and ‘the Murdoch Press’ stood in for a concerted address to the generally parlous condition of workers’ organisations. Labour’s next generation – Mandelson. In re-electing the Tories. then under political attack from a militant right-wing government. Accordingly. ‘Don’t buy the Murdoch Press’ and ‘Boycott the Sun. The hardened hacks of its subs’ bench were hardly immune when they puffed up their chests with the front page headline ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’ (11th April 1992). they took it that things could only get better as long as ‘Murdoch’ was persuaded to join them. These metaphorical slogans served to displace attention from the scale of the problem facing the labour movement. Even the Sun was infected. closing off the old country and the class-based. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. ‘more dead than Marxism’. seemed to think it was better not to know why they had lost. But ‘Murdoch’ made it into the new territory of the early 1990s. the focus shifted to the alleged peculiarities of News International and the personal attributes of Rupert Murdoch.International to sack its previous workforce and keep them locked out). (then) Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock managed to win them over. Both of these statements were already. Kinnock’s denunciation of Murdoch was enough to stop their elected representatives denouncing a Labour Party that did not support labour – such was the strength. Times and Sunday Times’ were the preferred metaphors of the day.org 24 of 26 . phrases such as ‘workers’ organisations’ have since become utterly anachronistic. and they needed saying. but without any current. even though. Instead they reached for the Murdoch metaphor. But instead of confronting the truth. and her preferred paper duly printed it. Here the Murdoch metaphor had become a contagion. the Murdoch metaphor travels well. In 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall came down on politics like an iron curtain. voters were only expressing their instinctive pragmatism: better the devil we know.proof-reading. The election result was duly ascribed to the power of the Sun: Neil Kinnock was toast because on polling day the Sun had said: if he wins ‘will the last person to leave Britain please turn out then lights?’ In the aftermath of the general election. when in 1992 the UK electorate surprised the pundits by preferring an exhausted Tory government over a disconcertingly nondescript Labour Party. might not have run out of time if in the mid1980s there had been less reliance on ‘Murdoch’ and other metaphors. Instead. many activists reached for a metaphor instead. Of course. Blair – was similarly affected. ideological divide between Left and Right. Campbell. They built their New Labour apparatus on the basis of the Murdoch metaphor. Having accepted that ‘Murdoch’ was a sufficient account of what went wrong. News of the World.
However. so the Leveson display – private trauma promenading with journalistic iniquity and police malpractice – both alludes to a key issue of the day and contributes nothing to its comprehension. Whereas she observed reticence in reference to fatal illness. Yet the truth contained in this proposition turns out to be more metaphorical than real. this critique was misplaced. the equally metaphorical antidote to Murdoch as metaphor. however. Today. Similarly. already beset by the scourge of ‘Murdoch’. she was writing about unspeakable illnesses which nonetheless spoke volumes about the society that could not bring itself to mention them. or so it was said. by opening up a conversation conducted through analogy. ‘Murdoch’ is shorthand – metaphorical signage – for the allegedly negative effects of popular journalism. in the 1970s and 1980s Journalism Studies first identified itself in Britain by mounting a critique of tabloid newspapers and their capacity to suck the intelligent life out of working class readers.proof-reading. the Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. Accordingly. Even when Journalism academics were constructing it. their criticism is reserved exclusively for the old metaphor – ‘Murdoch’. nobody is not ill. But this does not mean that they were responsible for the death of working class consciousness in the 1980s. when the new discipline of Journalism Studies distinguished itself by attributing both murders to the same tabloid villain. you must be a nobody (apologies for using a double negative not once but. In reality. the antiseptic ‘Leveson’. When Sontag wrote ‘Illness as Metaphor’ in the 1970s. But this critique was unwittingly metaphorical. With the Sun as its exemplar. also led to popular journalism in the form in which it duly developed – the tabloid. not least in the murder story: each murder splash is the story of how a human being was forcibly transformed into a lifeless thing – the corpse. (To understand this we must look to the failure of the Left at that time.Metaphors Old and New In the litany of complaints against the Sun et al. being ill and/or in recovery from illness is now much-used as a metaphor for human existence. if murder was the lead story in popular journalism (‘if it bleeds…’). alternatively. anyhow. ‘Leveson’ now stands both for the ills of journalism and for the treadmill which will supposedly bring journalism to a state of ‘wellbeing’. This violent transformation has long been represented in tabloid journalism. appropriately enough. we are now equally absorbed in his mirror image. the need for what was represented in the murder story. Conversely. hence. capitalism does deaden humanity by transforming human beings into little more than packets of commodified labour-power. there is nothing more to be said about you. there is surely an element of truth in the proposition that tabloid newspapers can have a deadening effect. just as the hushed tone associated with ‘cancer’ once registered the social significance of the disease without adding one jot to our understanding of it.org 25 of 26 . the incorporation of the working class into the bourgeois body politic. twice). to make matters worse. if you are not ill. it transformed a deadly accurate metaphor into literal untruth. Thus the tabloids have repeatedly described and just as often misrepresented the death of humanity under capitalism. today’s therapeutic culture confronts us with the opposite – a carnival of morbid symptoms. The Leveson Inquiry is already on its way to becoming ‘Leveson’. Furthermore. conversely. without a word against the new metaphor which has only recently appeared: “Leveson” – and still without recognising either metaphor for what it is. As before. Although woefully inadequate as an account of why the working class left the Left for dead.) However. The metamorphosis of Leveson into ‘Leveson’ occurs at a time when Sontag’s insight has been turned inside out. But now.
the histrionic humbling of journalists (and their managers and employers) on the grounds that (like almost everyone else) they have been paying too much attention to the intimate details of private individuals. the imbalance between private and public life is a real problem. Accordingly. When metaphor stands in for reality. that is.org 26 of 26 . we journos muster the strength to stick this metaphor back in the bottle. ‘Leveson’ is already latent with therapeutic intervention: journalism is to go into detox and the newsroom must break its addiction to secretive behaviour by undergoing regular procedures to ensure transparency. Strong against the unions and the left. is a way of acting out this problem metaphorically. suffusing itself throughout journalism as a whole. In today’s context. But Leveson now tops Murdoch whose metaphorical role is to support the new lead: Leveson himself. not just metaphorical ones. Worse still. As a metaphor Murdoch may even be losing some of his black magic powers. Unless. it has real consequences. Instead. Murdoch has been humbled by the ghost of a teenage murder victim.new metaphor is a way of closing down discussion of how things really are. Leveson the metaphor could not exist without Murdoch as precursor. The problem of public and private is misapprehended in what is purportedly the means of redress. neither will a dramatisation of irresponsible journalism suffice to replenish the deserted public realm. But the hollowing out of public life is not the sole responsibility of journalism. Proof Set 3: May 2012 www. it stands in the way of addressing it.proof-reading. but the Leveson genie is already working its way beyond News International.
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