Feb 2008

The sorry state of journalism

On a good day, this blog receives about one hundred and twenty unique visitors. On a slow day, that drops to about sixty. A little over half my visitors arrive via google searches (and it is almost exclusively google these days; other search engines fall a long way behind) and read a single page before leaving, never to return. Without doing too much statistical analysis, I believe I probably have 50 or so regular readers; people who either have me saved to an RSS reader, or who visit a couple of times a week to check for new stuff. In other words; my readership is tiny.

So I have absolutely no illusions about the influence of my occasional witterings. If garnering a wide audience was my goal then I’d have given this blogging lark up as an abject failure years ago. And the fact that it has been years and I’m still trundling along with a readership that has remained eerily consistent (excluding that week I got linked from Joss Whedon’s blog and my visitor numbers saw an almighty spike to several thousand per day until the link dropped off the front page of whedonesque, at which point the numbers plummeted just as suddenly) suggests that on some level I’m perfectly happy posting the occasional message here to be read by a handful of people.

I dearly hope that none of you fifty lovely, discerning, cultured (and outrageously good-looking) people feel you’ve wasted your time after visiting, but I must shamefully confess that you’re probably not reading my best writing. My quality control here isn’t always the highest, and certainly there’s very little here that I’d feel happy charging someone money for. This is why, for instance, I felt so uncomfortable when a couple of my pieces were included in last year’s Blog Digest (I could have just said ‘no’ of course, but that would have been too fucking precious for words).

Nonetheless, despite the fact that I don’t give quite as much care and attention to a blog entry as I might to a chapter of a novel, or a poem, or an academic essay; and despite the fact that I’m not charging anything except a few short moments; I’d still like to think that, at the very least, I’m not guilty of foisting complete shit on my readers. This is why I find myself increasingly frustrated with mainstream journalism and the lazy, dreadful writers who seem more than willing to serve up a steady diet of ill-informed garbage.

Take (via Chicken Yoghurt) this reaction from Benedict Brogan of the Daily Mail to the Climate Change protest at the British Houses of Parliament this week: Having picked up one of the paper aeroplanes being thrown by the protesters from the roof of parliament, he revealed it to be…

… a photocopy of an email from someone at BA to a Dept of Transport official about something complicated that I can’t be bothered to read.

This isn’t some junior reporter on work-experience. This is the paper’s political editor! I mean, none of us expects much from the Daily Mail, and while Brogan’s candour is refreshing if nothing else, it still boggles the mind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t the job of political editor of one of the largest circulation newspapers in Britain entail — oh, I dunno — bothering to read and understand the events of the day prior to writing about them? Is it really too much to ask? (Obviously)

And nor is it restricted to the complicated issues, or even to the crappier papers. The Guardian has just published a piece by one of their music writers (ex-NME hack Steven Wells) which, in essence, defends the right of journalists (music journos at least, but there’s a strong implication that Wells would go further than that) to simply lie to their readers when they can’t be arsed to research the facts. I can’t see how this is anything but a spectacularly ill-judged piece for any newspaper to publish (albeit in the Arts Section of their online edition).

To explain briefly, an American magazine has been forced to apologise to The Black Crowes (an uninteresting rock band) for publishing a review of their new album by a reviewer who — it transpires — didn’t listen to it. The Guardian, as represented by Steven Wells, believes that Maxim Magazine should not have apologised; that it’s perfectly acceptable for a journalist to lie to their audience and write a review based on nothing more than their own personal prejudice.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the reviewer should have forced himself (or herself) to listen to the entire thing (in this case, bizarrely, they couldn’t have done as they didn’t have a copy — merely a promo of a single), just that they should be honest… “having listened to one track from the forthcoming album by The Black Crowes, I was unable to bear any more. I guess if you’re a fan of dull, generic stoner-rock then this might interest you, and you’ll probably want to check it out if you liked their previous stuff. Me? I’m going to boil my head instead”.

Y’know…? Isn’t honesty the very least we should expect? I don’t care that Steven Wells is not a particularly good writer, as I can simply choose not to read him; but I do care that the mainstream media is willing to employ writers who clearly put far less time and care into their pieces than I do an off-the-cuff blogpost, and who simply appear incapable of performing the job they’re paid to do (whether that’s a political editor who can’t be bothered to understand an important issue prior to writing about it, or a music writer who doesn’t see a problem with dishonesty in journalism and is presumably happy to submit a review of something he hasn’t heard).

It goes without saying that I’ll be avoiding the writing of Steven Wells from now on (any music writer who can write: “If a band are any good at all they’ll play their best toon first. And that toon will deliver a killer hook in the first 30 seconds…” clearly doesn’t have the faintest idea about music, no matter how many singles he reviewed for the NME). And I’m unlikely to encounter Benedict Brogan again until the next time his drivel is highlighted by a decent writer. But between them, they’ve dragged the reputation of mainstream journalism even further into the pit of filth in which it’s been wallowing. And I’ll be reading The Guardian’s Arts Section with a little more scepticism in future. Can we assume their book reviewers bothered to progress past Chapter 1? Did the film critic walk out after the first five minutes? Seems like it doesn’t really matter anymore.

UPDATE 29-02-08 Uncanny!

Posted in: Opinion