Tuesday, February 07, 2012

“You don’t understand how journalism works.”

“You don’t understand how journalism works.”

This, or something very like it, has been a repeated motif in much of the evidence editors and journalists have given to the Leveson Enquiry. Paul Dacre said it yesterday:

“20 million people read the popular newspapers. I suspect most of these assessors don't read those newspapers and therefore don't understand how those newspapers operate.”

If you are a journalism educator working in a university you have probably heard complaints about how “they” (meaning academic colleagues) don’t understand what “we” do. You may even have said it yourself.

As to the latter, my own view is that “we” should do all we can to ensure that “they” do understand what we do and why we do it.

Of course that would mean being clear about the What and the Why ourselves and sometimes self-analysis of that kind is uncomfortable. Many of our time-honoured practices date back to the world of telegrams and scissors. We need to make sure they are not just a kind of journalistic shibboleth that takes the place of proper professionalism.

The bigger question concerns people (incuding judges and barristers) not understanding what journalists do and how newsrooms operate. As with educators, there seems to be a kind of perverse pride in this opacity. Baroness Buscombe identified one of the problems in her evidence this morning: the culture of some newsrooms needs to be “thought through”.

A service (Can we call journalism a service? It provides information for a consideration) that simultaneously prides itself bringing light to bear on others while remaining obscure itself is a service that has a contradiction at its very heart. More like a secret service and, until recently, almost as unaccountable.

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