“Media crisis”? What media crisis? Oh, the one where ethics isn’t seemingly so important anymore and media students, like Anne Johnson, are being pointed in the direction of puppy stories…
The term “media crisis” is thrown around media class in the same way “terrorist” was handed out on every street corner after 9/11.
But what does a media crisis actually mean?
As a journalism student at Australia’s largest university, that is exactly what we spend most of our classes discussing. The term “media crisis” mostly refers to the fact that the public is losing trust in media outlets due to commercial pressures, with media ownership creating its own form of censorship and serving what the public is interested in, rather than what is in the public interest, which is what journalism was created for.
Every scholar in the world puts in his or her two cents about where this “media crisis”, or lack of trust in our media outlets originated from, but there’s one place that no one has put any thought to.
As a journalism student, we take two classes; theory and practice. In our theory classes, we discuss the importance of ethics. We believe in journalism as the “fourth estate” – a watchdog over corrupt powers and the unbiased voice we need to enact to make democratic decisions.
It all sounds like a utopia where journalism runs democracy and the people clearly and absolutely hold the power over corporations and governments.
But “Journalism in Practice” is the class where we write articles that are actually published, and that utopia seems very far away.
On the first day of class, as vulnerable little first years, we were told to “write like the Herald Sun” and aim for our articles to be understood by 12-year-olds. Tutors encouraged us to find the conflict in stories, find the dark side, the “scoop”; even if that meant taking a stretch.
And how was I rewarded with an article about a local government conflict that didn’t quite exist?
With a “High Distinction”.
Only one day before, in “Journalism Theory” we were told that if a bridge breaks, we shouldn’t report how many people died, but rather on why the bridge broke and if anyone else could be in danger of faulty bridges. That is for the public’s greater good – in their best interest – to be aware of dangers to themselves.
In Journalism In Practice we did an exercise on a press release of a building burnt to the ground. Not only were we told that the cause of the blaze and the structural integrity of the building was not worthy of front-row attention in the article, we were also told to focus on the injured or the heroes because it would generate more public interest.
Yes it’s interesting and I, admittedly, would want to know the same, but this isn’t the journalist utopia we discussed so fervently the day before.
Journalism students are the next generation of news and online content creators. We will be the people you turn your television or radio on to find out the issues of the world. But instead of learning ethical practices, your future news providers are taught conflicting practices to their ethics, all in the name of sales.
Your news, while satisfying public interest, will be completely irrelevant in term of helping you make informed decisions about the corporations to purchase from, causes to care about and politicians to support.
Instead, the next generation will receive nothing but simplistic writing aimed at twelve-year-olds and information that undeniably destroyed the ethics and work of Enlightenment writers.
Maybe being able to read what we’re interested in is a form of democracy itself? Maybe reading about puppies and heroic firefighters is what journalism should be focused on because it represents the people, and if that’s what the people want then I say, give them puppies!
Maybe the Enlightenment way is outdated and we need to make new definitions for what our journalistic and democratic utopia should look like?
I could write an entire thesis on this and still never come to an answer on what this media crisis business is all about.
But one thing’s for sure; journalism will always be around – whether it’s about puppies or political scandals – so we need to keep talking about what we want to see, what’s ethical and what’s important enough to be “news” for us.