How the media loses friends and alienates people…

October 22, 2008

Simon Pegg had me clutching my sides and falling off my seat…the guy is hilarious. If you ignore the slightly crass moments involving miniature dogs dressed in human clothing (well, it is a Hollywood blockbuster after all), he absolutely nails a role that explores relevant issues about the kinds of stereotypes that surround journalists, and the problems that many journalists may encounter on their way to the 7th room or (forgive me ladies), the Big Boy’s jobs.

One fact is clear. The newspaper industry is losing readers. As Christopher Reiss, ex Political Editor of the Evening Standard, wisely pointed out, this has something to do with the Internet, but not everything.

In a 2000 Ipsos MORI census, journalists got the lowest vote of confidence with only 15% of people saying they trusted them. 15%!!  Painfully, this was even lower than politicians at 20%

But why so low?

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People pigeonholes journalists in two ways. The struggling, but deeply moral good guys vs. the backstabbing, money-orientated scum-bags, who would probably sell their own children to a Moroccan slave trade for a good scoop. The good guys face the decision between a penniless existence and joining the dark side.

How true a perception is this? Did the film hit the nail on the head or is it just indicative of stereotypical and harmful attitudes towards the media?

The film emphasises the shallowness of Hollywood and the people surrounding it. But what effect does celebrity interest and coverage have on hard news? Bunching different types of media together is detrimental, particularly when celebrity news can often be reminiscent of the gladiator arenas of old; a good, ruinous story about a celebrity satiates the public’s appetite for blood, the socially acceptable version, but nonetheless innately human pleasure in seeing the downfalls of others.gladiatorpreview

Ironically this can backfire on a journalist’s reputation, and often readers seem to have no qualms in biting the hand that feeds them. An example of this is the public outrage towards the media for hounding Amy Winehouse (click here), something that they couldn’t get enough of to start off with.amy-winehouse-sick

The film suggests that being successful invariably means writing about what your readers are interested in, however superficial the subject may be – the media is, at the end of the day, an industry. However, changing times call for a changing focus, subscriptions for the Economist have gone up, More on the other hand seems to be struggling with its readership. Unsurprisingly, people are less interested in reading about Madonna’s latest craze, and more interested in reading about the financial market…news with substance is on its way up. For now. Perhaps this will also help to change perceptions towards the media.

Although there are numerous reasons why journalists have acquired a bad name for themselves, the news industry has changed enormously since the days that every journo had a bottle of brandy in the top drawer of their office desk. Editors can no longer afford to be complacent because they are constantly challenged by the accessibility of the Internet, the feedback that it enables and vast competition it offers.

The Internet prevents journalists from pressing their hands firmly to their ears, and thus they have increasingly found themselves in embarrassing situations that ten years ago they would have got away with. Think Andrew Gilligan. Despite public opinion, mistakes are mostly made in good faith, the Internet has forced journalists to do their job more thoroughly, and although changes are certainly needed, journalism is heading in a better direction.

Trust issues are now deeply embedded in the media, and scrupulous attention to detail and facts by journalists are essential if attitudes are going to change. Although arguably better quality news will attract more readers, this is difficult to balance with the fact that so many readers are interested in fast, juicy news, which often has a side-product of sloppy reporting.

In that case, to what extent are our readers fuelling, and in some ways responsible, for the media’s bad rep?


3 Responses to “How the media loses friends and alienates people…”

  1. charlotte said

    interesting point about the web opening up competition, but how can you keep up with articles and bloggs without living on the web and then who collects the stories on the real turf

  2. Glyn said

    Are they fuelling it, or is it our own fault.

    Do we say sorry properly, in a way that corrects but doesn’t remove the error (where legally appropriate of course). Is it obvious that we are fessing up for mistakes?

    You make very interesting points here, journalists have never been good at being scrutinsed but the web means that everything we do is scrutinised.

    Look at sites like Regret The Error for an example.

  3. […] who don’t report responsibly will both alienate and potentially harm people. Referring to my blog How the media loses friends and alienates people, from a business perspective, journalists cannot afford to estrange any more of their readers. […]

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