Tuesday 11 October 2011

Journalism has 'forgotten its heart' says Brooke

Heather Brooke, whose FoI campaign helped expose the MPs' expenses scandal, has accused modern journalism of becoming "morally bankrupt" and having lost touch with its role as a champion of the public.

Brooke, speaking at City University, where she is a visiting professor, said journalism needed a "public purpose" and argued that over the past few decades media organisations had businesses first and foremost businesses.

She claimed that the desire of journalists to change the world had been usurped by a new type of journalism that was about marketing, PR and selling products and said: "The ultimate moral bankruptcy of modern journalism is that it has forgotten its heart, its core function, which is serving the public."

Brooke argued that the media had become "bamboozled by marketing and PR" and journalists no longer looked at courts, schools, and local councils - civic life - because it had fallen out of fashion.

Describing herself as a "cheerleader for resurgence of civics," Brooke warned that "when news is treated like just another widget in the production factory process it loses its purpose."

Brooke argued that the growth of new media - "where anyone can be a journalist" - had caused "an identity crisis" in mainstream journalism. But she argued that professional journalists were needed as curators and verifiers of news and the public would turn to media it knew could be trusted.

"Journalists will lead the way if they stay close to the people. We need to remember the public," she said.

Asked about WikiLeaks, Brooke replied that she supported the philosophy behind the whistleblowing website but thought its founder, Julian Assange, was "a morally bankrupt individual".

She claimed: "Julian made himself the star attraction and didn't let the material speak for itself and undermined the gravity of what it said."

Asked about self-regulation of the press in the UK, Brooke said it was "a totalitarian idea that you need to regulate the press to make it behave" and said what was important was the relationship between the press and its readers.

Brooke told another questioner, who asked darkly about suppression of stories about City University in its own media, that City was subject to the Freedom of Information Act...Over to you City University journalism students.

Pic: Heather Brooke (Jon Slattery)

1 comment:

Innocent bystander said...

The lack of academic rigor in Heather Brooke’s lecture was disappointing. Showing commercials for Coke and Levis to illustrate the point that “journalism has become morally bankrupt” was lazy at best and dishonest at worst. If journalism is corrupt (and many would agree with the statement) surely a more convincing way to illustrate the point would be an example of a “corrupt” article or news clip, rather than adverts? Talk about straw man arguments.

But it got worse: Brooke went on to show a map visualizing the Manchester riots and claimed it depicted events in London. I’m not sure what was more cringe-worthy: Brooke’s obvious error or the fact that none of the aspiring journalists in the audience picked up on it. If that’s the future of journalism, it surely is a doomed profession.

She made a few good points, but didn’t develop them properly. For instance she pointed to the declining numbers of court reporters and the resulting lack of transparent coverage of the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the next step to discuss the implications of the current proposals to allow television broadcasts from certain court proceedings. Will the general public still need mediators to explain truths they can see for themselves, or can journalists add value by providing context, explaining complex legal issues etc? A missed opportunity IMHO.

Brooke also came out with various silly statements (“Africa is a huge country", apparently) and unsubstantiated claims (“Assange is a morally bankrupt individual”, apparently). The less said about these, the better.

Overall the talk was a mixed bag: Some valid points, let down by instances of flawed logic, lack of evidence to back up various statements and plain factual errors. Probably fine for a general talk about journalism, but it fell well short of what can and should be expected from an academic lecture.