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Quality journalism is not dead

When I was preparing my move to London for journalism school, my mother and a friend from school both told me with great pride that they had faith in me. They said I would single-handedly do the world proud and restore the name of journalism.

That is the mentality I have been surrounded by for years. “Quality journalism is dead,” “The news are all biased these days,” “The good ones go for the left because of all the benefits from the government.”

Perhaps these statements are true, and newspapers are biased towards those willing to help them make some profit. The words, however, remained difficult to hear. I was preparing for a career in a field I felt strongly about and I was being told the health and future of those newspapers was a fantasy, that the news that mattered was not being reported and that those who should be exposed by journalists always got their way in the end.

 

For any young journalism students and for those who care, I want to make an argument in favour of the journalism which persists and which continues to be rewarded for its hard work in bringing things to light.

That cannot be done without a bit of analysis.

With the arrival of new media came people who made a name for themselves. Around the US elections, YouTube would recommend to me Vox as a source to understand the United States’ political system better. It has also recommended The Guardian because I went through a phase I’m not sure I’ve yet left, of complete admiration for former UK Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger. After the elections, I spent most of my ‘roaming time’ on the BBC website to see what the Electoral College would do.

During the French elections, I would read Le Monde and various French publications which offered a digestible synthesisation of each candidate’s program. I had been waiting to vote for too long not to take my decision seriously.

During dissertation research, I relied heavily on The New York TimesLe MondeThe Washington PostThe Economist

Now that I’ve started a new job, I’ve been researching everything I can about the products we make and their impact worldwide. The best articles I found were on The New York Times website – which I now have unlimited access to because I have a subscription. I went to have a look at The Guardian‘s articles, which are on open access thanks to generous reader donations. The difference in writing style and – I would argue – quality, was flagrant.

One publication was writing, providing pleasant and concise presentations on important themes. The other was being snappy, a bit more biased, and let its opinion show through its choice of words.

I have been told (or rather mansplained to) that it is impossible for journalists not to be biased. Yet, NYT showed talent and self-control which lacked in the more ‘fashionable’ Guardian.

Then, somehow, I landed on the Vox website. Its video titles had already begun to irritate me, with phrases such as, “We need to,” indicating activism and a ‘know-it-all’ attitude more than an objective, rational debate. The website was full of these videos. Even the narrator’s voice showed emotion aplenty.

The difference between the three providers was the access. The traditional American East-Coast newspaper asked for some financial contribution after a certain number of articles you’d read. The Manchester-born British-American newspaper and the American digital producer did not.

I do not want journalism to be elitist, just as Joseph Pulitzer did not want his papers to be sold at exhorbitant prices. Unlike William Randolph Hearst, he wanted an informed readership, not a profit-making business.

Still, I ask you to acknowledge the amount of work an investigative, ground-breaking piece like the NSA Files-Snowden affair – which won The Guardian a Pulitzer prize – requires. Journalism is even more honourable a profession today, when production costs continue to rise and readers continue to turn towards open-access because of the culture of immediacy and the free web provided by the Internet.

Unfortunately, plenty of students and low-income households cannot afford a subscription to newspapers. To those people, who continue to seek quality reporting, I thank you for your trust in our jobs.

Some newspapers, those I trust most, are willing to concede and offer discounts to frequent readers. Le Monde, French Partner to The Guardian, has offered a friend of mine and myself two 6-month subscriptions for 1€. The New York Times offered me a similar deal (in GBP) following the extensive visits for my dissertation research. The lesson to be learned here is, don’t erase those cookies; they will literally save you money in the long run.

Money is part of the point, though. I know people who left their better-paying job to go to journalism school and become a reporter. They downgraded their salary, dedicated time and effort to a passion, because that is what this field is. You work long and sometimes difficult hours because the news waits for no one; you have to ask unpleasant questions and follow up, risking the contacts you have, unless you want to provide the same generic answers as everyone else to your readers. You always have to know your stuff. There’s confidence, but there’s also subject matter expertise and being able to ‘wing it’ if things go south at the last minute.

NewsroomMeeting

Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom may be idealistic, but it reflects standards we should uphold. Credit: LSE Polis

I’m not describing a fantasy, I’m describing a job which attracts the ambitious. So much so, that it was brought to the Stirling campus in the 60s and has but thrived since then. I see our Editors work hard to find new ways to keep the paper going, to innovate it and to encourage new students to come and join the team.

If we love it so much, why should we charge, you ask.

Do you get out of bed at 6am every day to go to your factory for fun? If you had your way, you would get up at 9am, go to the office a few hours and take the afternoon off to answer e-mails. No job, with all the passion in the world, becomes leisure. You must make a living and you need to be able to compensate for the energy and intellect you apply to your craft.

That is why journalism costs and it is why some newspapers will not let you down. They will spend months getting hung up on before they can get one person to open a Pandora’s box and suddenly, you are served a Watergate scandal, some Panama Papers to follow and a Harvey Weinstein revelation to finish off.

We do our job well, but the public sphere needs its most important assets to continue: discourse and engagement.

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