It is easy to put up examples from The Guardian or The Huffington Post and say ‘look, media bias!’ but these organisations are not news organisations, they’re opinion blogs with a lot of money. The Guardian for example describes itself as ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’. What I’m more concerned with, in this piece, is the death of real journalism, what used to be the kind of journalism dreamed about and admired: All the President’s Men journalism — where did these reporters leave to, and how do we get them back?

 

When I was graduating secondary school, I wanted to go into a career in journalism, and I wrote a sentimental personal statement about my love of objective truth. But the sad fact was, that journalism had long since been a proprietor of objective truth. It now makes profit off of grief and victimhood on the left, where the right makes profit out of fear.

Feelings over fact has never been so relevant; and this is not a partisan issue, in that it is not only the left, as much as I pick on them, that engage in this kind of exploitation of low-retention rates, it is a problem built up over many years — the doomed idea of giving people the power of misinformation, where false story leads to false intellectuals who read it before their night out with their equally misinformed friends, to laugh about the facts they saw on page 4 of The Times while concealing of course any notion that they might have learnt it from a paper and not just their own brilliant mind.

So when did the journalist die? It would be hard to pinpoint an exact date, but not so much to liken the demise of integrity with recent, and some not so recent, cultural changes. How times have changed since Edward Murrow, when journalists would hold political figures to account, and in his case, lead to the censorship of Joseph McCarthy;but it might be argued that faith in the faithful, as it were, led to a lack of independent inquiry. You would find few who doubted the integrity of Murrow, and so held their faith in him as a sort of ‘truth-sayer’, the problem with this however, is that it led to the rise of expertism. Michael Gove recently received flak for saying that ‘Britain has had enough of experts’, and whilst I’m hard up to ever defend Gove, in this case I think he’s on to something. He, who holds truth as informed by those he trusts and not by what he learns to be true himself, knows nothing to be true at all.

Another point is that perhaps the journalist died by the very ambition and admiration that real journalists invoked. Perhaps it is the strong nature of modern youth, predisposed — more so in a fiction-dominated society, in an escapist society — to want to see themselves more as who they want to be, than to actually be it. In literature, you have young people pining to be the next tortured genius, drinking themselves to death to the point where they hate the taste of whiskey because ‘that’s what a writer is supposed to do’. I imagine a want-to-be Woodward and Bernstein, attacking political opponents and praying and sitting on the edge of their seat for the next great critical exposé, only for this desire to override thorough investigation and where they forget that stories are never handed to journalists, nor are they created by them, stories are found and they are found by thorough investigation.

This is called a glory bias. You can see this trend in a lot of different fields, a culture of narcissism. And then of course, the famous fear of being wrong. Through many ways, be it through the glamorisation of ‘destroying’ your opponent in a debate, or the correlation with falsity and stupidity (of course no one is right until they are proven wrong first), it has become practice to shame others for being wrong rather than to teach them why. This creates a fear of falsity, a dangerous fear that leads to stubbornness in the face of fact, as well as placing your faith again in the winner; but why?  Their rhetoric was better? He caught them in a logic trap? That may prove that the loser made a poor argument, but it does little to prove him wrong.

The decline of The New York Times ad revenue has increased from 9 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 to 19 per cent. The Wall Street Journal is firing staff, and Reuters is set to lay off 2,000 workers. The mainstream media suffers under digital triumph, but it would be a quick recovery if they could simply be trusted again. I won’t go into specifics about the media bias towards Trump vs. Clinton, (or how 96 per cent of journalist donations went to the Clinton campaign), but the election did rip apart people’s opinion of the mainstream media. This is not just about technology, this is about people trusting internet sources over print, and that should show just how few people trust the mainstream media and how little they trust it. But even so, for those that do, they put themselves in a very difficult position now that Trump has won.

Whereas before, painting him as the next Hitler or a white supremacist may have been a harmless and shameless political strategy, they have now not only managed to convince real white supremacists that ‘their candidate’ has won, emboldening them further, but to also strike real and growing fear in the left, who may not be so politically engaged, that America just elected a fascist.

So where do we go from here? Well, journalism rested on a set of tenets. Truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, and accountability. Along with this came the presumption of innocence. That last one is most important, the ‘limitation of harm’ by naming implicated persons, something which might harm someone’s reputation. I see all the time, a journalist will jump on a rape allegation without allowing the right of reply to the accused, assert it as fact and name the man as well as where he works even before the case is settled.

We need to return to a state of not printing without proof, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. More so, as a call to readers, it is important not to hold all your faith in other people’s research. I’m not saying ignore it altogether, but consider the possibility that it might be wrong, regardless of how much you wish it were true. No more ‘in journalist we trust’. Clickbait, celebrity stories, commercialised journalism and advertisements are just the dying breath of a struggling industry, but they are not the root cause of its problems. And people say that politicians lie — ‘never trust a politician’ — well of course they do! It is not the job of a politician to tell the truth, it is their job to steady public opinion and market confidence regardless of truth, and to do whatever their PR team instructs to calm the public when in office, or to agitate them when running as opposition.

It is the journalist’s job to hold these people to account, it is the journalist’s job to put aside political bias and instead let the facts speak for themselves; where hierarchy is dictated by weight of story, not a private moral code, and if they really think their view is correct they have nothing to fear with portraying both views equally. It is the journalist’s job to ensure that whatever lie comes out of a politician’s mouth, or anybody’s for that matter, the truth is what people hear. When did we forget that?