There is a journalistic tic that you may or may not have noticed gaining prominence over the past decade or so. While conducting a political interview, the journalist tends to end questions with the full name of the interviewee:
“You’ve been making the case that the Gillard government is run by dwarves and trolls, and now they’ve literally begun hiding under a bridge. Surely you must be feeling validated by this, Tony Abbott.”
This almost certainly being a television interview, it’s unlikely that the viewer is unaware of the name of the politician being validated. And yet, the journalist is closing off the sentence with an unnecessary placeholder. She doesn’t need time to think; she’s just asked a question. She has already introduced her subject. What is the story?
There’s no way of knowing, but it raises a different, more worrying point. Political journalism is increasingly a commodified service. There is a template; ask politician a question, find an opposing politician for an opposing quote, publish (or present to camera) both with no further research conducted. Rinse. Repeat.
In other words, anyone can do it.
I’m not about to spend too much time decrying the state of journalism today – Mr Denmore over at The Failed Estate is doing a much better job than I could anyway – but I have a concern that the new generation of politicos are being de-skilled and indoctrinated to the point where there will be no reversion to quality reporting.
Perhaps more important than the standard of reporting of political issues in Australia is the fact that there is a generation of journos, doing the rounds in the diminished, low-rent commercial media who will likely never know any better.
This, then, will feed into a notion among smart, talented students that the media – and journalism specifically – is an intellectually vapid, pointless world and why the hell would they ever want to work there.
This isn’t merely the purview of the frankly gorgeous autocue-readers on TV. Young print journalists are likely also being inculcated in the ‘view from nowhere’ that Jay Rosen has written eloquently about.
The idea that the journalist is an entirely objective observer is one that can pollute discourse, and leads to so many of the troubles we see in reporting today: horse-race political reporting, polls as news, he said-she said stories, the notion of the centre between left and right extremes being correct by default, the list goes on.
Usually, the notion of ‘cohort replacement‘ is a soothing one, suggesting that conservative, reactionary rhetoric will be slowly phased out as those who have long held those views, dies out. But what about the opposite? What happens when journalists schooled in a more thoughtful, rigorous method pass off into the great newsroom in the sky (or you know, retire) and all that is left is a bunch of kids with no idea how to use the ABS website?
That day is closer than you think.