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Published on May 18th, 2015 | by Dr. Jimmy Wall


Journalism Needs Unity, not Division

You would think that journalists stick together – that we got each other’s backs. When it comes to violence directed at journalists we sure do, but when it comes to the future of journalism, we seem so divided the media crisis in Europe and Australia is our own doing.

Funny isn’t it? A lot of journalists complain ad nauseam about objective and balanced reporting. Yet when some are given the privilege to write a column or opinion piece, objectivity and balance often goes out the window, leaving the readers with a narrative of ‘I am right. Everyone else is wrong.’

Diversity of opinions should, of course, be celebrated. However, we need to be careful, as some opinions can often be very misleading. If we accept diverse opinions they need to be based on facts, not biased, self-serving opinions.

The Guardian Director of Digital Strategy Wolfgang Blau published a short piece over at Medium about how he is annoyed with the pessimistic view journalists have regarding the future of journalism in a digital age.

His smug write-up is riddled with juvenile retorts and misleading claims, really not adding any value to the debate. That is why I decided to analyse his write-up and pick apart some of his quotes.

“Citizen journalists pose a threat to media organizations” (I have never met anyone who called themselves a ‘citizen journalist’. Have you?)

Instead of approaching the claim he opts to denounce it by making the vague claim that citizen journalists do not exist because he has never met one. If you do a quick search on Twitter you will find a lot of people claiming to be citizen journalists. I have actually met a few in person. Some even write for another publication I write for, Westender. More importantly, he is completely avoiding the question.

“Periscope is a threat to news organizations, how can news organizations respond to that threat?” (Are you fucking kidding me? Periscope can become a treasure trove of material for us.)

Again Mr. Blau is avoiding the claim by making a nonsensical response. There is no doubt that Periscope can be a good news source, but that is not the concern here. Do not forget that The Guardian is very fond of free content.

First of all, what is a ‘click’ and when comes the day when we can start discussing metrics with you beyond ‘clicks?’ What do you even mean with ‘clicks’? Is that a page view, a visit, a video-start? I honestly have no idea what you guys mean. Beyond that lack of data literacy, though, where do you take this certainty from that journalists should be kept in the dark regarding their readers’ behaviour, interest in and interaction with their journalistic work? Why would you keep belittling journalists like that?”

This response actually shows Mr. Blau’s lack of data literacy. How many clicks/views/visits/etc. only shows how many that visited a certain article — nothing more. By default it actually keeps the journalists in the dark, as it does not show why an article was read and how it affected the reader. Nor does it indicate if an article was read because it was valuable. It is not uncommon that links to articles are posted on social media to be used as an example to show poor journalism, or even an example of clickbait. Acting as if these metrics are the be all end all is actually belittling to journalists. When it comes to journalism the focus should be quality over quantity, not the other way around, which seems to be the trend sadly.

“User comments: Should quality-media still allow them?” (“Allow them”? How do you not allow them and why has no one ever — as in: never ever — asked me about the benefits of user comments, which there are so many of?)

There are also very good arguments against comments, even studies. Which raises the question, would The Guardian survive if they did not depend so much on user-generated content?

“What about paywalls? The New York Times is very successful with it.” (Shoot me now, please. Thank you.)

Yet again he avoids the proposed issue with a juvenile retort. Not every newspaper has the luxury of having their own fund to keep them afloat. It is very easy to criticise paywalls when you do not have to rely on them.

Yes, there is a lot to worry about, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of risk and there are many journalists who lose their jobs these days. But would it really be ‘un-journalistic’ to get excited by journalism’s fantastic new opportunities?’

Those who lose their jobs and those who are trying to break in to the industry to earn an honest living as a journalist (yours truly) will not feel any excitement for being out of work. It is only an opportunity if you can attain it, and then benefit from it. It is also very easy for Mr. Blau to be excited when he already is employed and most likely do not need to worry about the future of his employment and career.

Would it be less authoritative to test different reasons for being optimistic when interviewing practitioners? And where is this unreflected romanticism about journalism’s past coming from? And lastly, what makes you think digital journalists still have to justify their optimism?

They are forced to justify it because Mr. Blau and his ilk are optimistic and safe in their employment, acting if everything is fine while newspapers around Europe and Australia are cutting costs by letting journalists go. Then having the gall to claim those who worry are negative nellies.

I started this piece by asking for unity in journalism. What I mean by unity is that we all are on the same page when it comes to certain issues within journalism.

Claiming that there is no media crisis and social media/digital journalism is a godsend is similar to me claiming violence directed at journalists is not an issue because I have (been lucky so far to) never experienced it.

Mr. Blau’s write-up is: 1) extremely one-sided. He has already made up his mind about the status and effect of digital journalism. But who could blame him, when he works for a newspaper (as mentioned earlier) that is self-funded, made itself dependent on user-generated content and can afford producing news at a loss. Not to mention, he is the Director of Digital Strategy. Of course he will be biased towards anything digital. With employment, he cannot see the forest before the trees. Not wanting to know there are those who struggle in the field of journalism.

He is also 2) unwilling to engage with all of the questions he objects to. The only engagement is either short, juvenile retorts or loaded (rhetorical) questions. It is a cheap trick to use rhetorical questions to respond to something you disagree with, as you already know the answer, while adding nothing to the discourse.

The text is steeped in the idea of 3) I am fine therefore your should be too. This leads back to both point 1) & 2). The lack of or inability to approach the questions objectively; being able to listen to the person asking the questions without being biased and not analysing them from your own point of view. A skill that is important to be a good journalist, not making everything about you. Unfortunately he has decided that because he is doing fine, anyone that questions that is by default wrong.

The write-up is basically 4) a lot of words about nothing. It is a feeble attempt to dismiss the worry some have about the future of journalism. If what we are experiencing now should be regarded as opportunities, then why are journalists being fired and aspiring journalists not hired? Usually when we speak of new opportunities in any industry we also see an increased demand, followed by hiring. When it comes to journalism we sadly see the opposite.

This is why I ask for more unity within journalism. Mr. Blau is unable to back up any of his claims. This goes against the idea of good journalism. If you are going to present an opposing view or argument, you need to back it up with something. Juvenile retorts and baseless claims is not enough.

Feature photo: Ahmad Hammoud

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About the Author

Dr. Jimmy Wall — journalist and columnist. Drawn to journalism thanks to Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo journalism. He shares the good old doctor’s disdain of objective journalism, as he too sees how it can be easily used to either not uncover the truth or pretend you have reported the truth. The good old doctor said it best, “I don't quite understand this worship of objectivity in journalism. Now, just flat-out lying is different from being subjective.”

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