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From the Rector: How media betrays the nation and its investors

Fr HawtinThe 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 2020 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 politicians of both parties routinely hurl at each other.

News ought to have some basis in truth. Back in the days when reporters (as they used to be called) actually practiced their craft, it was considered grossly unethical to a shill for a politicians.

The few who did so were usually assumed to have accepted graft for betraying their principles. Today many journalists apparently not only shuck off their ethics as a matter of course—they do so for free.

Back in the old days, 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.

Journalists once were expected to sort news from that type of blather. But today this basic duty is demonstrably honored mainly in the breach.

Like so many other occupations today, journalism’s problems begin with the way in which aspiring news men and women learn the fundamentals of their trade—a word calculated to strike horror in the breasts of the denizens of the nation’s newsrooms.

But journalism is a trade, not a profession, no matter the pretensions so many modern scribblers. It has more in common with carpentry and plumbing than “learned professions” such the Law and the Church. Even so the fact that it is a trade or craft should in no way diminish it.

However, as with so many trades in which skills were once traditionally passed on through the apprenticeship system, the teaching of news reporting has been taken over almost exclusively by colleges and universities. And it is much the worse for it.

Unlike architecture, engineering and agriculture, 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 primary quality aspiring journalists really need to develop is an ephemeral one: It used to be known as a “nose for news.”. An extensive working knowledge of what used to be called “civics” and a cynical appreciation of the way politicians and bureaucrats work is also useful.

In short, a journalist’s real education should take place in the field rather than the classroom Modern journalistic education, by contrast, places a heavy emphasis not on news gathering, reporting, 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-organized 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 “who, where, what, how and whys” of events expressed in straightforward, declarative sentences.

The literary pretensions of today’s journalists have led to the laughable phenomena of reporters accusing each other of plagiarism—as if it might actually be possible to plagiarize tomorrow’s fish wrapper.

It also, I suspect, engenders the apparently insatiable appetite for journalism awards; the veritable 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.”

Back in the days before journalism was a twinkle in the eye of the college deans of admission, most news men and women knew that their livelihoods depended on maintaining their readers’ trust in the publications for which they worked.Thus, they knew that undermining that trust by promoting personal agendas — political or social – would ultimately conflict with their best own-interests.

This, lamentably, is a notion today’s journalism school instructors have signally failed to impart. Small wonder, then, that the most avid consumers of today’s mainstream media are the folks who produce it. And this, in turn, also explains why most of today’s mainstream news organizations are on the ropes. GPH✠

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