Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Who's Afraid Of Anita Woolf?

We are, apparently, pimply-faced geeks. I resent this immensely. Nora has a flawless complexion and I personally have not sported a visage of blemished appearance since the age of 15.

We are also, apparently, in our pyjamas. This is not so. Nora is, in fact, in a dĂ©colletage-revealing negligee and I am naked. Except for one’s smoking jacket.

Additionally, we are narcissists. How can this be? We love each other!

Today, when bloggers chastise an inaccurate or simply idiotic journalist en masse, journalists complain that they are unfairly under ‘toxic attack’ by geeks in pyjamas.

But their complaints merely indicate how much further than yesterday journalists are behind the news.

In the 20th century, readers sat at home, on the train and at café tables reading the paper and thinking journalists were prats. In the 21st century, the reader can express that opinion instantly through the power of blogging.

Further, ink on pulped wood whinges such as that by Anita Quigley, reinforce the uncomfortable truth – for traditional journalists, that is – that their day in the sun is over.

The 20th century journalist enjoyed unrivalled privilege in controlling the dissemination of information accompanied by the small degree of celebrity endowed by power. In this, they enjoyed an advantage over previous eras of journalism in which the opinions they expressed were more stringently controlled by the publishers who paid their wages.

But today, thanks to the relatively new phenomenon (dah-dah-da-dada!) of the internet, we are all journalists and all publishers.

As a result, journalists are no longer a special pseudo-celebrity class. That’s gotta hurt.

Bloggers enjoy the freedom to discuss subjects ranging from the cerebral to the banal without the input of editors and other journalists to judge what is ‘worthwhile’.

Indeed, journalists are among the most self-censoring of the publishing classes. As American author Janet Malcolm, herself a journalist on the staff of The New Yorker magazine, observed ‘the novelist fearlessly plunges into the water of self-exposure, (while) the journalist stands trembling on the shore in his beach robe.’

This is because they not only fear the approbation of the peers whose respect they so slavishly desire but they also fear that to challenge their own preconceptions and biases about the world will bring their existence crashing around their ears.
To challenge the status quo is to make oneself an outcast in the newsroom. Woe betide the journalist who questions erronious opinion, faulty logic or leftist group-think. Imagine not having anyone with whom to go to the pub at lunchtime or share a latte on the sidewalk.

Yet, the one group they least fear is their readership, a group at such a convenient distance that the journalist can safely imagine they are speaking of and for them. Journalists in fact through their amusingly appellated code of ethics speak of ‘describing society to itself’.

However a survey published by Pew Research Center in 2004 and another published in Australia by the Bulletin magazine several years ago found that journalists leaned significantly left of those whose taste, morals and values they purported to mirror.

However, their convenient distance isolated as they are in the ivory towers of newspaper complexes and security guarded television stations did not previously permit consumers of their ‘wisdom’ to question and correct.

The blog not only allows the instant objection but also exposes the relative courage of the blogger in laying oneself open to instant feedback from our ‘readers’ who have at their disposal the same powerful tools of research and fact checking as the bloggers themselves.

Indeed, bloggers fact check more thoroughly than most ‘professional’ journalists who seems to imagine that there is some form of voodoo at work or obsessive vindictiveness that compels people of the blogosphere into ‘digging up’ the appropriately qualified contradictory response.

This may of course be because the majority of journalists are sadly unschooled in research, particularly with regard to research on the Internet. Working in environments in which their employers are, quite rightly, fearful of their employees propensity for ‘goofing off’, they are frequently afforded little open access to the Internet.

And since ones own personal time is for drinking or sitting around with cronies commiserating on the currently impoverished standing of left wing governments, journalists appear to have little time to hone these skills after hours when the Internet is simply a venue for getting the latest sports results or ‘hooking up’ via ICQ.

Note to journalists: even if you cannot cope with the well-established principles of Boolean searching, you can just go to Google advanced search.

One cannot, of course, blame the 20th Century journalist for their petulance and even anger at being stripped of their priestly mantle as gatekeepers to information. They have indeed, enjoyed this ‘Power of The Press’ for the better part of a century while the Internet effectively, in its mainstream form, has been around for less than a decade.

One may, however, object to their characterisation of the blogger as some guy in his pyjamas. Not only is this sexist as many bloggers are female, but it is also wilfully ignoring the fact journalists are one of the scruffily dressed professions on the face of the planet.

A garbage collector has practical reasons for his attire, yet the journalist, who must be ready at a moments notice to interview either the Prime Minister or the latest Big Brother evictee, is generally incapable of mustering a single necktie across the entire newsroom.

Regarding the distaff side, one is personally aware of a ‘journaliste’ 25 years ago who had to be sent home to change because her attire was more suited to the bordello than the job of work at hand. One shudders to imagine how much worse the situation must be today.

And it is not surprising that they react with the adolescent resentment of the aforementioned Ms Quigley when journalists are more and more regularly kicked up the backside for incompetence, ineptitude or general silliness by seemingly ‘unqualified’ non-members of their cohort. In pyjamas no less.

Ironically, while journalists have always celebrated their own intellectual prowess and a sense of smug superiority over mere mortals, they have indeed always been held as amongst the lowest of the low.

One feels it necessary to recall in closing that, in pre-Internet days, annual surveys indicated year after year that journalists were regarded on a scale on 1 to 100 as only marginally more trustworthy than used car salesmen. Prostitutes, while sharing many similar attributes, but undoubtedly being more honest on their income tax returns, usually ranked more trustworthy. Much more.

-- Nick and Nora

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