Hug a journalist …

Unemployment increases to 2.62 million in three months. Youth unemployment is now more than one million. Female unemployment is at its highest in 23 years. The jobless rate overall is 8.3%. Britain’s economy could continue to stagnate well into next year. The global outlook is worse. The London Stock Exchange has seen a 79% increase in pre-tax profits to £179.7 million. Eurozone inflation remains at 3% because energy costs remain high.

How do I know all this? Not by reading documents from the Office for National Statistics. Not by phoning the Bank of England Governor for a chat. Not because I have a friend who is the friend of a broker. Not because I had a chat with David Cameron or a call from my energy supplier.

Michelle Stanistreet

I know this thanks to the work of journalists. The BBC specifically in this case. Meanwhile all journalism is being attacked because of the misdeeds of a few.

It’s no joke that people’s phones were hacked and that information used for stories in a profit-making publication that saw media tyrants enjoying the sort of lifestyle the rest of us associate with repeats of Dallas. It’s no joke that journalists on those publications felt this was either acceptable or expected of them.

But it’s also not what all journalists do. It isn’t a problem within the journalism industry as a whole. For the general public to scapegoat journalists, fear journalists, not trust journalism is to give the powerful more power than you can ever imagine. We’re needed to ensure people are informed, properly, accurately, honestly informed.

I see no reason why all doctors should be feared following Dr Shipman’s case and no reason why someone at Angler’s World would need to tap a phone. I see no reason why staff would be blamed for the bullying boss of any other multi-million pound corporation and I don’t believe for a second that someone at Timber International sends private investigators off to get juicy snippets. I don’t think reporters at your local paper would even consider using an investigator – when half the fun is investigating worthwhile stories yourself.

For the most part, those in power are enormously protected. When I started as a trainee reporter … wait, while I move my Zimmer frame … I was able to phone the leader of the council directly. I turned up at police stations for talks with the chief. Public Relations had not got to a stage where it not only protected people but fabricated its own stories to promote a certain person or event: I’ve written inaccurate information having been provided it by someone in a press office who had their own agenda and I’ve been angered by being tricked.

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet has suggested that journalists are scared to speak up at the Leveson Inquiry and the union is now with inquiry team to ensure that journalists who wish to contribute can do so in confidence, protected from retribution by employers. She says:

“The NUJ is making a good deal of effort to identify journalists to give evidence and to share their experiences with the Inquiry.

“However, the stark reality is that in many workplaces there is a genuine climate of fear about speaking out. In order that it is not simply those who have retired, or who have been made redundant and left the industry, who feel able to make a contribution we are working with the Inquiry team to ensure that journalists who wish to contribute to the Inquiry can give their testimony in confidence, to afford them protection from retribution.

“The fear is not of immediate punishment but of finding that a few months after your Inquiry ends a journalist who has spoken out may find herself on a list of redundancies.

“The reality is that putting your head above the parapet and speaking out publicly is simply not an option for many journalists, who would fear losing their job or making themselves unemployable in the future.

“In our experience, that fear has been a significant factor in inhibiting journalists from defending the principles of ethical journalism in the workplace – and in media organisations hostile to the concept of trade unions there is a particular problem.”

So take a breath before blaming journalists and consider what you would lose without journalism: without intelligent, investigative journalism, the sort of journalism that brought the phone-hacking issue to light.

Rupert Murdoch

Most journalists don’t want to write celebrity guff – although Hugh Grant’s misdemeanours was funny. We don’t go into journalism to intimately describe some two-bit celebrity’s battle with the bulge. We sit at the desk laughing out loud at some of the tripe we write that impresses our illiterate editors … or is that just me?

The reality is journalists are losing their jobs every day due to cut-backs as the profit-driven media seeks to ensure more money for its shareholders and owners. (They can join the NUJ here.)

Journalism and our access to information is already under threat. The attacks on our local papers mean we, as readers, risk no longer having journalists scrutinising the cuts of local councils; journalists in court reporting if justice is fair on teenage rioters; journalists reporting the privatising of our NHS; journalists questioning the actions of the police during protests – and this work is too important to allow money-grubbing media owners to take it from us.


4 thoughts on “Hug a journalist …

  1. Hi

    I read your blog regularly and was wondering, as well as our current economic reality, to what extent do you think the changes in technology are to blame for the situation being faced by newspapers and other publications?

    I am not a journalist and don’t know any, but I am training to work in radio. I am, hopefully, at the start of a career doing something I love, but the hopes of getting a job when my studies are complete are not only complicated by the recession and the industry cutting costs where ever it can (in ways not at all dissimilar to the manner you talk about newspapers doing the same – local stations being bought by national companies, combining offices, reducing local content, homogenisation of what remains to fit a ‘brand’ more suitable to advertisers than listeners), but by the internet. Of course the internet makes it easy for me to start my own station, as it does with you and your blog, but if I can have an app on my phone that lets me choose between 50,000 stations from around the globe for free, how do I stand out or make any money? This situation will only increase with the forthcoming advent of better mobile internet. Radio is an industry that people have never had any expectation of paying for directly, unlike newspapers until only recently.

    I read articles by journalists online every day, but there is no demand for payment. The Guardian may have an excellent website full of good content, but I believe it loses lots of money and they don’t seem to ask for payment unless you buy the physical copy. Admittedly I have no idea how well Mr Murdoch’s publications do behind the paywall.

    Apologies for waffling on, the world seems a bit mixed up at the minute and I am struggling to see the lay of the land.

    All the best,

    Phil, Manchester.

  2. A very interesting blog and I commend you on it. You write very well. And there is much I agree with.

    But my eyebrows were raised somewhat by this sentence: “The attacks on our local papers mean we, as readers, risk no longer having journalists scrutinising the cuts of local councils”.

    Here in North East Lincolnshire, I have two local newspapers. Oh, if ONLY their journalists scrutinised anything other than their expenses payments!

    Look, I am not expecting Woodward and Bernstein exactly. That would be unrealistic. But both of these newspapers – indeed like all their equivalents throughout the UK – have never ever launched a campaign for the ABOLITION of their local council.

    And that, I regard as a COMPLETE dereliction of duty on their collective part.

    Forget Michael Moore’s “bangsters”. The real bane – and DRAIN – on society is not a relative handful of banking personnel earning obscene bonuses (though they should be stopped tomorrow). The problem lies with the exponential growth of the “political class” worldwide: and Britain has it worse than any.

    Lincolnshire once had a Lincolnshire County Council. And yes it still exists. But would you believe, it is now one of an incredible NINE unitary authorities serv… (strike the word “serving”!!!) … covering the county.

    That is NINE sets of duplicated personnel. Nine CEOs, some earning as much as our Prime Minister. Nine Directors of Education, nine Directors of Environmental Services and so on, ad nauseam.

    And it doesn’t end there. We are weighed down by parasite councillors. My suburb of Grimsby has three for this little village alone.

    And we only see them once every 5 years on the eve of an election.

    They think that if they turn up once a month on a Saturday morning in my local branch library, to perform what they shamelessly call a “surgery” (gosh, forget the fact I am married to a doctor of medicine: the shameless adoption by parasite politicians of that word, used to send me off the deep end long before I married her), somehow justifies their lavish allowances.

    No it does not. When I was a kid – a long, long time ago – we had a councillor in the Rhondda who knocked everyone’s door, once every three months. That is TWENTY home visits in 5 years – against the current ONE. And that “one” is if you are lucky … (or should I perhaps say, unlucky!?)

    We need local press to fight to remove all these layers of government. Why do you think our council tax is so high? You don’t need to be Einstein to realise. One council could easily replace the nine here in Lincolnshire, and immediately get all these drains on our resources off the payroll.

    But, no. Not a murmur from our local press. They are happy with local councils. In fact, the more “local”, the better. I am sure they’d settle for EIGHTEEN councils, rather than the currently obscene number of nine.

    Why? Well again it is easy. The more that is “specific” to a small cluster of towns, the more they can justifiably say falls into their area of exclusivity of coverage.

    So I understand their desire not to rock the boat. But let us not mince words. All local press are doing, is looking after their own self-interest.

    It is an intellectually bankrupt position, and indeed, a gutless one to boot.

    For that reason, I am not unhappy when any local newspaper bites the dust.

    But also, I have to say that the quality of writing I find in local newspapers, is usually lagging far behind the best of the “specifically online” stuff that I get to read these days.

    So local newspapers never detain me long.

    But your blog I confess, is an arresting one.

    If only I had more hours in the day eh?

    It is 4.37am as I write this. I have already been up for two hours trying to deal with a overflowing inbox and have spent an hour reading your blog for the first time (my friend, the great Ian Skidmore, sent me your way) and then spent 40 minutes writing this. So I must be off!

    But I promise to return. Alas I cannot say “when” though!

    Dai Woosnam

    • I too, Dai, see my local paper failing to investigate what its readers would like it to focus on. I’ve seen its staff cut, their workload tripled – not just because of fewer staff but the demand that they also write for the web, make audio and video clips, blog and talk to people who comment on those blogs, Tweet their every reporter-related move. Woodward and Bernstein themselves would struggle to have time to meet Deep Throat while they had a blog entry to write and a press release to re-write.
      This is why throughout my blog I mentioned that newspapers are profit-driven: as they drive for bigger profits they cut costs in the shape of journalists, they close newspapers, they have fewer people doing more work, they reduce the time reporters have to do the job they want to do. They also have their proft-seeking fingers in many pies and it is the owners and senior managers who don’t want to rock the boat: I know of situations where stories have been spiked so as not to upset either advertisers or local police.
      We all go into journalism for something better and, more often than not, end up writing about lifestyles unachievable by many in the city, or which celebrity is at the local arena, or being told not to write things that might stop a slum landlord advertising his other business in the paper. It’s not a dereliction of duty on the part of reporters. It is an impossibility to do their job.
      I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed writing this blog more than I enjoyed writing celebrity interviews – thanks for reading.

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