Friday, 2 November 2012

Being A Journalist: Why Bother Anymore?

This week 26 leading media academics backed calls for Mr Justice Leveson to propose a statutory framework for new laws which would make journalists answerable to politicians for the first time in a century.

They are part of a view in some quarters that  we are no longer capable of governing, policing, or whatever you want to call it, ourselves.

That MPs - still seething over having their expense fiddling laid bare by a brilliant piece of investigative work by the Daily Telegraph - should have a say in judging the behaviour of others is especially ironic.

What the students of these academics, or their counterparts studying media up and down the country with a view to joining the profession, must think about all this Lord only knows. Many are spending tens of thousands of pounds in pursuit of a dream of working in national TV or broadcasting at a time when it seems the profession is in the grip of the Black Death.

Last week one young reporter from a prominent national newspaper told colleagues he had had enough and was taking a job in the private sector. Another, short listed for Young Journalist of The Year, has been doing the rounds of Corporate Intelligent firms looking to do the same.

Next week I will have lunch with a hack who appeared to have the world at his feet until a dozen police officers arrived to give his family a 6am wake up call five months ago.

His lawyers are confident that the charges he eventually expects to have laid against him - predominantly around alleged corruption of an official in a public office - will be thrown out of court.

Indeed they also say there are grounds for substantial compensation against his employer over their part in his arrest and the way he has been systematically isolated since.

But, as my friend explains, this will only likely come at the end of two years. His life will be on hold until then - a career in suspended animation when it should be at its peak.

Now, thanks to the marvel of Twitter, individual journalists can be pilloried for the occasional excesses of their employer (s).

During the last month, for example, even hacks new to the profession have been blamed for the Hillsborough police cover up, Jimmy Savile's decades of sexual abuse under the eyes of his BBC bosses, and the oft-quoted hacking of Milly Dowler's phone. This all despite many on the receiving end weren't doing the job 25 years ago, and didn't work for the News of the World.

Then we have the curious case of Richard Peppiatt, who spent so long trying and ultimately failing to become that which he now openly despises.

He was supposed to be the lightning rod for young journalists to flood forward with similar tales of tabloid abuse - oddly then haven't.

Indeed Peppiatt's supporters from the blogging community continue to beat the mantra that it would be better to be rid of all "unscrupulous" hacks. Presumably - despite having no formal training - they believe they can fill the void which would be left behind.

To be fair there is plenty of evidence of the likes of Guido Fawkes and Harry Coles more than holding their own- the pair regular break exclusives which are the envy of many in the national television and newspaper lobby.

Then we have the other up and coming bloggers, the likes of Billy Bowden, who write with both wit and invention.

The trouble is that for the present there are too few of them and, like it or not,  most of what matters news-wise still originates with the national media.

Thus it was The Sun who broke the story of Plebgate, or Gategate, which, with no sense of self irony, the same bloggers who stalk and abuse hack via Twitter, then followed and wrote extensively about themselves.

Then we have the TV journalist who at last told the public about the awful crimes perputated by Jimmy Savile against young and vulnerable women. Another brilliant piece of journalism which has since (rightly)dominated the blogosphere.

So now we come to the point of hopefully showing why it is important that - among our ever dwindling numbers - we must still bother.

Without you we potentially won't have the next big scandal laid bare.

The training of journalists - yes including from the academic centres now rubbishing the job - is still without equal when compared to other professions.

Still, even now, during this unprecedented witch hunt, we have far less numbers going to jail than from the legal profession, who have by far the greatest numbers of professional misconduct hearings of any industry out there.

And - unlike in say the likes of Sweden - we do all this without public funding.

When we get it wrong, which for all the abuse is extremely rare, it goes badly wrongshould rightly be covered elsewhere, as was the case of the excesses of a tiny minority on the News of the Word.

But when we get it right, which is often, then being a hack is brilliant and what we do is brilliant.

Don't give up - stay the course. Bail out now and you are giving those who seek to silence us just what they want.


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