Writing the easy option
Samantha Brick’s case shows it’s too easy to take the easy option when writing – and that’s what’s happening more and more. But is her pretty face the future of journalism?
I’ve worried for some time that writing is becoming slacker and it’s why I set up this site, and I still keep meaning to publish my research into change over time at some point as it needs a fair bit of testing.
So Shu Richmond’s criticism at her site rang true when I read it – journalism is becoming shoddy. But unlike Shu I am an optimist.
In her article Shu lambasts not just Samantha Brick, the author of a rather simplistic piece that reminded me more of Alan Partridge’s We Need to Talk About Alan (particularly that both seem to have lost friendships over trivial matters) than real journalism, but so-called media professionals who built on the story.
Shu says that it is too often for journalists to take the easy way out and instead rely on press releases and regurgitating other stories. I sympathise as my first journalism role was like that – I was praised by my bosses after seeing me using the phone to talk to people for stories, it was so rare at the firm that it was promotion worthy.
And it is not just there. At one point I was so incensed by the Daily Telegraph‘s slack reporting (yes, only the Telegraph can ‘incense’ someone) that I started writing to them to complain, in a kind of youngish Victor Meldrew 2.0.
They never got back and I started writing on a site I set up called Teleble Errors that I started for a couple of articles before realising I was in a losing battle I wasn’t even sure would be worth winning when the Telegraph is more interested in posh totty that good stories.
Coming back to Brick, Shu points out is that not only was Brick’s column research-free, but so were the follow up interviews on ITV’s This Morning. I am aware of the irony of taking Shu’s word without checking – I am not watching This Morning, research or no research, but I am going to say I believe her when she says it was largely fact or insight free.
Yes, I hardly expect Paxman on This Morning, but some questions would be good.
The easy option
So how widespread is this problem? I am an optimist – good journalism isn’t dead, it’s just a premium product. The spread of the internet has made more people writers, and that’s why this site exists.
Humans like to take the easy option – it’s not a bad thing, having studied maths I can tell you that some of the cleverest people in the world know how to take the ‘easy option’ and so make the world understandable.
My astrophysics tutor, for instance, could do what were literally astronomical sums with pen and paper simply by rounding up and down and approximating to give answers remarkably close to the real one.
However, they also knew when not to, and that takes skill. As more organisations produce daily news when they didn’t before – and I am in one of them now – it is harder to recruit journalists and as such not everyone is original. Even on mainstream news I have lost count of the amount of news stories that are replete with Twitter quotes, thinking that is enough to get a very narrow demographic reaction to an event.
If I want hard-hitting journalism I won’t get it on most sites, but if I want a brief view of it then so be it. If I want decent news I have to pay, which is why I subscribe to The Economist.
So, Shu and others out there, my sympathies, with the growth of public writing and news we are going to see more quick, cheap, easy – and poorly researched news – but if there are people protesting, learning and researching then there is still a place for it – hopefully one that pays.