I’m having a bit of a love/hate relationship with my chosen profession lately. From the Leveson Enquiry in the UK to the Kate Fitzgerald scandal and “Magda” mess in Ireland, media bashing has become something of an international sport, and justifiably so.
At a time when citizen journalism is on the rise, websites like Storyful and obviously Twitter are creating news faster than journalists can open a word doc, old media is becoming somewhat redundant. Of course there’s still a place for traditional media – this isn’t another one of those debates – online content is often churned out, unsubstantiated and biased (and with frequent spelling mistakes and shady editing if this blog and my Twitter feed are anything to go by). But going by recent revelations, newspaper articles are often churned out, unsubstantiated and biased too. Old media, if it wants to keep it’s tagline as the “writer of history”, needs to tell people more than they can be told from a Google search or hashtag. Twitter, Facebook and the internet in general are fantastic news sources, for journalists as well as media consumers, but the journalists are obliged to go a little further.
The thing I’ve always loved most about being a journalist (aside from the occasional freebies, and being able to show my Mam what I did at work, rather like a five-year-old coming home from school with a painting) is that is gives me a licence to knock on doors. To call people up and say “Hey, what’s going on.”
I don’t mean this in the brash-hack-calling-to-the-door-of-a-murder-victim’s-family kind of calling, I mean when there’s an event, a new business, an interesting organisation or a fascinating person, my job requires I dig a little deeper. I always liked knowing things first, I always liked finding out more and I always liked spreading the word, all traits that come in pretty handy with this line of work. This week for example, I spent a morning with a women who changes the lives of impoverished children yet counts royalty among her friends, I also got to root around a rice mill, and see how rice can be sustainably created to protect wildlife. Citizen journalists can tell the story as it appears from out front, journalists are often given a key to look inside – of course, many do a bit of pilfering while they’re in there.
I recently felt the brunt of the media-bashing contingent. I was the bashee if you will. I wrote a story, which I still stand over, about the Siem Reap Expats and Locals Facebook page. Trivial content you may think, but in a small town, where everyone knows each other, people are understandably protective of how they are perceived. I had led the story with the topical issue of a 1000 Member Party the page was hosting. As a balance to that, I wrote about how the page often took nasty turns, frequent spats were becoming increasingly personal, a page that’s very essence was community spirit, seemed to be somewhat lacking. I sent the story off, and it was chosen for the cover of the magazine – my first cover – so far so wonderful.
The day the paper came out, the words “Anti-Social Network” were emblazoned on the cover, “Facebook Face-Off” was the headline. The spat was played up, the party played down. None of the story was false or inaccurate, but it was certainly less diplomatic than I would have presented it myself. I like to write positive angled stories, but I know, they’re not always the most interesting. The piece got a lot of buzz, more than anything I’ve written about the new businesses and fascinating people here in town.
I understood why some people got annoyed. I got why the people involved in the story were let down. But others were so nasty (ahem* thus proving the point of the story) that I literally spent a weekend in hiding, mortified that my name was being bandied about as some kind of unqualified, inexperienced intern who was under the thumb of the editor and didn’t have a clue what my job was about.
The problem was, they didn’t have a clue what my job was about. Everyone was talking about the nasty online arguments, yet they figured the newspaper shouldn’t have relayed that chatter in print, that it should have a higher brow than the people reading it. Needless to say it was character building. My editor gave me a pep talk. I’m not here to write what people want me to write, my job is to write what’s actually happening, what people are talking about, he told me.
But you see, I’m the kind of person who likes people to like me. People-pleasing I know, isn’t the most appealing of traits, I’d rather be a feisty individual who didn’t care what people thought about me, but my spine is rather lacking in that department.
So I’m torn on what to write about, torn between pleasing readers, interviewees, my editor and myself.
In this instance, people were quick to jump on the media bashing bandwagon. It’s an umbrella excuse for people who don’t agree with what they’re reading. The media needs to be accountable, but people also have to read between the lines and consume critically. While much media is advertiser driven, and management (mogul) driven, they also give the public what they want – there’s a reason why the Daily Mail is the world’s most popular news site.
People call for something that’s well-edited, articulate and accountable, yet they’re consuming the sensationalism, the news with mass appeal. I have a great want to tell “real” stories, to write about about “real” people. The thing is I’m not sure there’s a huge market.
I sent pitches to no less than 15 newspapers when Cambodia was flooded, Bangkok was making headlines, why weren’t we? Every single one that responded asked me about the Irish death-toll, whether Western industry was effected; no one would care until perhaps the factories in Phnom Penh could no longer ship their H&M jumpers, maybe then we’d have a problem.
This has turned into a rather long-winded, round-about, thought-hashing post, and despite all my years of training in writing structure, I’m not quite sure it has an ending. I blame Siem Reap and it’s dang paradoxical nature. On one hand there’s art galleries and cocktails, long brunches and quirky boutiques. Then on the other there’s incredible people doing amazing things, and inspirational survivors working with wonderful organisations. Living in Siem Reap has made me both enjoy the good life and crave a little more sophistication yet feel a severe obligation to rough it, to tell these harrowing or uplifting tales. Do I comply with the tabloidisation, or be a radical gonzo?
It’s kind of like that job meme that’s doing the rounds right now – anyone else the the journo one is crap? – except the differing perspectives are mostly just my own.
I’m currently in a semi-disillusioned, semi-zealous limbo, caught between knowing what I want to write about and not being sure how, but enjoying the licence I have to knock on doors and be nosey until I find out.
(Pic from here)