I wonder where it went wrong with the media. Part of me wants to make an arbitrary pointing of my finger to sometime in the early eighties. I recall during that time period a distinct change in reporting, particularly in regards to political matters. It was the Miners’ Strike as I recall, and the image that remains in my head is that of Ian MacGregor stepping out of his car amid a journalist scrum and putting a plastic bag to his face, using the handles as eye slits to see where he was going. The focus moved after that. It was no longer interested in reporting the moves made by Thatcher or Scargill and the effects those had on the country at large, it was far more interested in discussing the mental faculty of a man who chose to stick a polythene strap in front of his head. There was more to it than that. The propaganda on both sides, labelling Thatcher a demon and using some carefully selected images of Scargill to equate him to Hitler, had more than its fair share. But that image and the subsequent reporting sealed it. I think it was then that I decided that the media was irreparably broken.
Since then, it has only gotten worse. In these modern times, in which our country becomes ever more divisive and aligns itself only to the hards of the political spectrum, any form of news—and the reporting of that news—has become intolerable. Barely does an hour pass before there is yet another screeching interview involving a Leaver or Remainer about the progress of Brexit. What makes that worse: is that it always the same Leaver and Remainer: the former about the utopia that awaits us when the clock strikes midnight on March 2019—no, October 2019—no, December 2019—no, January 2020—okay, definitely January 2020, but really December 2020 when we begin the new round of negotiations relating to the leftovers that were not agreed upon in the prior four years’ negotiating. As for that Remainer, I find that he seems to run from one channel to the other, relaying the same information about how The Public is crying out for a People’s Vote—despite the original People’s Vote being a vote to leave, despite the election following that People’s Vote resulting in the two largest parties being the two promising to deliver Brexit, despite the election after the election after the People’s Vote resulting in the largest party being the only party that promised to deliver Brexit. Delusion, thy name is That Man Who Runs Around Demanding the People’s Vote. I’ve never bothered to learn his name. All I know is that when I see his face and I hear his voice and I hear that voice form the phrase ‘People’s Vote’ my eyes go blurry and my temple begins to throb and I collapse to the floor and begin speaking in tongues, as if his words are driving some demon from my soul.
When not going on about Brexit, somebody else—often American–pops up to talk about Trump and his impeachment, or the environment and how we need to begin eating soil this very instant or the seas will dry up tomorrow, or whatever else happens to be trending on Twitter in the five minutes before the camera pans onto them. To quote the modern-day philosopher Lao Yang: ‘It’s all so tiresome.’
But it goes beyond that. Hysteria, anger, mass panic—emotion in general—is one thing, yes; yet that is merely the end result of a flaw that occurred much earlier in the system. Hysteria stems from the death of the objective report. Somehow, somewhere along the way, subjectivity became king of reporting. What was once kept to an op-ed somewhere in the middle pages by the editor of the local newspaper in which he or she described a family trip to Alton Water has become the primary way in which news is reported. This is mostly prevalent in online media, no doubt a result of the need for clicks and hits to justify the pennies that the company pays. Indeed, it is a rarity to look at an online article and see a title that is anything other than: [This happened] followed by [This is what my opinion of it is—and, subsequently, what your opinion of it should be. It’s no more delivering news than it is proselytising—or browbeating—an audience into submission, the forceful acceptation of opinion under the guise of reporting fact.
What’s worse, for me, at least, is that I would accept this encroachment of opinion into news—so long as it was well written. Subjectivity is a thick forest through which I need to hack and slice with a machete as sharp as Voltaire’s wit to reach the objective truth—but, for the most part, the objective truth is there. Though I would argue that those whose emotions elevate themselves to such a state that they cry ‘Fascist!’ and ‘Social Justice campaigners want to castrate all white men!’ whenever they see something they dislike take a step back and breathe first before publishing their work. Cobble together enough of the subjective pieces—one from somebody describing the event as the end of the world, another from somebody lauding it as the greatest thing since Orwell and Hubert came to blows in the mountains of South America—and you can determine the facts, from which you can then piece together your own opinion. More than that, it is the degradation of the language that irks me. It is the decline in the ability to write a coherent sentence that has turned me into an intellectual exile, living in a mental isolation on some island somewhere off the coast of Argentina. I do wonder if we lost something when we banished to Dickens’s novels the strict grammarians who would cane the knuckles of children who could not recall every Latin declension.
When I do dare to open an article these days, I find myself at the mercy of an assault of bad syntax, terrible use of grammar and, quite often, an author using a word that doesn’t mean what the author thinks it means. With most word processors having advanced to check the context of words alongside the spelling and grammar of the piece, this last one is inexcusable. Even if working on an older system, dictionaries exist. Samuel Johnson didn’t spend ten years of his life defrauding his investors so you could sit around and say ‘I have no idea what this word means but it seems right so I will put it in’.
My local paper is terrible for these later points. As I look at the date, I assume that there has been a recent intake of graduates from such pointless degrees as journalism. It must be so because there has been a marked increase in the amount of articles, most of which are about topics only slightly more interesting than the discolouration of toenails left on a table under different types of bulb, and a marked decrease in the ability to craft sentences. It astounds me how anybody can receive a degree in an English-based course and still not know when to use to, too, then, than, your, and you’re in the correct context. I can think of a recent article about a museum in the marina, in which the reporter seems to take a special joy in placing an apostrophe in its. I can only hope he is doing it as his own form of commentary on language, that he is waiting for someone to message him pointing out every glaring error so that he can reveal his ruse as part of a social experiment for his upcoming thesis. For if not, all it shows is that the standard for local journalists is far lower than I thought.
I can look at that same rag and point to an article by a journalist about an act of vandalism outside a food hall that reads:
I think the worst part is that it’s very disheartening for staff. We don’t charge the public to attend our venue and they have lots of think they can enjoy for free.The Man from the Media.
What marvels the most about that is that it was written in an online article, and thus a reader could see when the article was not only posted originally but also updated. As it was an ongoing event, edits and additions were made for several days after the initial posting. And yet in all that time, that error was never picked up. Some might call it a slight error, a simple blindness from looking at the page too long. But this article came from the mind of the journalist who just some days earlier had written an article mocking a local business about the sign on its door having an error. There’s a Biblical verse that this guy should have read: something about ‘he who is without sin’ throwing stones. If the Bible isn’t his thing, there’s always the adage known across the arboreal world. ‘Don’t throw stones at my house of glass,’ is how I think that one goes.
If the journalist is not capable of reading through the work and yet for whatever reason the paper wishes to keep them in their position, then have the smarts to hire an editor. Preferably one who is Old School in his thinking and won’t hesitate to take out the switch when somebody uses an incorrect preposition. He’s not cheap, but he is in the area.
Until that moment comes, I can only offer some advice from outside: dictionaries and thesauruses and grammar books are your friends. Read them, learn from them, write using the skills you have learned. But do not publish right away. Read it, re-read it, change the font and read it a third time. Have someone else read it; either a colleague or one of the many, many voices on the many, many text-to-speech websites. If it doesn’t sound right, alter it until it does. And if it still doesn’t sound right, have the decency to admit that you’re a terrible writer with no business in the writing profession and chuck the whole thing in the bin where it belongs.
To those who wish to pick up on my grammar, I say this: go on, do it; at the very least, it will get me the clicks. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what this business is all about? It certainly isn’t about competent, thoughtful, insightful writing, I know that much.
Of course, this is all my opinion, so you should take it as you like.