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How media betrays the
 nation and its investors

The incompetent narcissists who produce America’s mainstream media have for decades been betraying both the nation and their shareholders—a fact that has been made manifest in the media’s coverage of the run–up to the 2016 Presidential Election.

Indeed, it should be clear—beyond all doubt—that it is the media that is primarily responsible for the extraordinarily low and ugly level of political discourse that disgraces not just the nation’s capital and state houses, but our local council chambers.

It is a grave insult to the intellect of even the most low–brow news consumer that the media treats seriously the overblown rhetoric and grotesque insults which politicians of both parties routinely hurl at each other.

News ought to have some basis in truth. While it, thus, is worth reporting that Mr Donald Trump’s strategy is to call his opponents in the race for the Republican presidential nomination ‘idiots’, ‘stupid’, and ‘no-nothings’, it certainly isn’t worth revisiting it on a daily basis.

Mr Trump is a shrewd businessman and, although he has yet to prove it, he might well have the makings of a capable president. But he is also a flamboyant showman who knows a good publicity stunt when he sees one.

He calls his opponents rude names because he knows the media will report it constantly, giving him column inches by the acre and hours of television and radio time, all for free.

Once upon a time, when newsmen and women were a good deal more professional than they are today, they regarded it as a matter of honour to recognise publicity stunts for what they are and ignore them. Giving anybody—especially politicians—free advertising used to be anathema to media professionals.

(Back then, public relations operatives were rated by their ability to sucker editors into accepting publicity stunts as genuine news. Today they don’t even have to go through the motions. These days it seems that most news starts out as a public relations handout.)

In the age when news journalists actually practiced their craft, politicians who wanted media exposure actually had to earn it with policy proposals or debating points that made some degree of sense. Otherwise they had to pay for it.

Politics is admittedly not the most principled of occupations. Politicians of all stripes are prone to make ugly and outlandish accusations against those who disagree with them.

But does anybody with half a brain honestly believe the Republicans have ‘declared war on women’—a demographic group that comprises more than half the electorate? Can anybody but the most gullible, no matter their politics, seriously think the Democrats actually intend to drive the nation into bankruptcy?

Such stuff isn’t news; it’s just blather, and news organisations have a duty to sort fact from this type of fiction.

This basic responsibility seems to be honoured mainly in the breach; thus, folks might be led to conclude that naïfs, amateurs, or outright traitors to their craft staff most American newsrooms. But such a conclusion is not entirely fair.

Like so many other trades today, the problem starts with the way its practitioners are taught their ‘trade’—a word used advisedly.

Journalism, no matter the pretensions journalists harbour, is not a ‘profession’. It has more in common with carpentry and plumbing than ‘learned professions’ such the Law and the Church. But the fact it is a trade or craft should in no way diminish it.

As with so many trades in which skills were once traditionally passed on through the apprenticeship system, the teaching of news journalism has been taken over almost exclusively by colleges and universities.

However, unlike architecture, engineering, agriculture, and business studies, the academic environment is unsuited to the imparting of the skills necessary to be a good reporter.

A great newspaper tycoon once declared the qualifications for a news journalist to be ‘shorthand, typing, and a sort of low animal cunning’. Modern journalistic education teaches nothing of the kind.

The qualities that aspiring news journalists really need to develop are exceptional insight and acute observation. An extensive working knowledge of what used to be called ‘civics’ is also essential.

An illustration of the vital role insight plays is found in the case of a young reporter assigned to cover an important society wedding. The copy deadline came and went without a story being filed. Next day the youngster explained: ‘There was no story. The wedding didn’t take place. The bridegroom didn’t turn up!’

Modern journalistic education, by contrast, places a heavy emphasis not on writing, but on ‘writing’ in quotation marks. This foolish pretension that news writing is a form of literature is responsible for the interminable, self-indulgent screeds of woolly, ill- organised text that today passes for news reporting.

Real news writing is far from literature. It is essentially utilitarian—merely the vehicle by which news is transmitted. At best, news writing should be to a degree formulaic—the ‘where, what, how and whys’ of events expressed in straightforward, declarative sentences.

The literary pretensions of today’s journalists have led to the laughable phenomenon of reporters accusing each other of plagiarism—as though it could actually be possible to plagiarise tomorrow’s fish wrapper.

It also, I suspect, engenders the apparently insatiable appetite for journalism awards; an orgy of self-congratulation that encompasses the putatively sublime and the patently ridiculous—from the Pulitzers to the local sanitation department’s ‘Journalist of the Year’.

Small wonder the mainstream media’s most avid consumers are the folks who produce it. This, in turn, explains why most mainstream news organisations are on the ropes. GPH✠

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