Today’s Fourth Estate

What it means to work in the press today, in one of the arguably most controversial subject areas: politics.

 

Postmodernity

As we have entered into a post-modern era, we have seen the blending of high and popular culture and the emergence of a press that has embraced this.

 

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Everything is merging within the media, once there was broadsheet and tabloid, now it is hard to define a clear difference

 

This explains the narrowing of the gap that has been observed between the quality press and tabloids.

These factors combined have resulted in the ‘erosion of the boundary between entertainment and politics.’

Conboy, 2002.

Newspapers have made an effort to achieve this by referencing popular culture and making ‘the political personal.

This means communicating political topics and issues by using real life examples and people that the general public can relate to. This is an attempt to move away from the class systems that existed prior to post-modernity where the press alienated a mass audience by only subscribing to middle class ideals.

 The shift occurred when it was realised the mass population working class public was an untapped market that offered far more financial gain. Today newspapers are not just competing among themselves; they are competing with technology, so they have to rely on several techniques to sustain them.

 

Pressures of the Industry

However, this shift has left the institution of the Press open to criticism of declining standards and untrustworthiness. 

It was Colin Sparks, who stated during the Leveson Inquiry, that

‘newspapers in Britain are first and foremost businesses; they exist to make money, just as any other business does.’

Considering newspapers as a business contrasts heavily with the noble values attached to the ideals of a free press. While many are now calling for stricter regulations, journalists are arguing being controlled by the state would compromise even further their ability to do their job.

 

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Mixing journalism and politics creates a conflict between fact and opinion

 

 

A Demanding Public

Though clearly events call for stricter regulation on the press, as was revealed by the Leveson inquiry, to protect the rights of individuals and members of the public; the idea of a government ran administration board controlling the press could further entrench public idea’s of corruption within the two institutions.

It is easy to pin point the failings of the media, and the money making strategies that must fund it as business, but that compromise the watch dog entity the press was created to be.

However there are other sides to the argument to be considered when we consider the contemporary face we recognise to be the UK press today.

Changing public interests and demands have also been ignored as a cause for the changes to news writing. The first priority for any journalist is their audience; they have to appeal to their customers in order to sell copies.

Morrison and Svennig (2007) said: Declining readerships have increased the competition in papers; making the tactics of sensationalism and corner cutting commonplace.

The main issue political journalists have is the distinction that has to be made between what content is in the public interest and what content the public is actually interested in. Newspapers have a duty to inform the public of matters that they feel they should know but this does not always align with what the reader’s want to read. Sometimes as Schlesinger said they just want gossip.

 

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With so many things happening in our world, how do you choose what events to report on?

 

What is defined as ‘public interest’ reflects issues relating to the ideological values of a particular society. For instance in our democratic society, one of these issues is politics, however many individuals are not so inclined to read about this.

The public interest is an abstract idea that news editors use to decide what material should feature in their paper; it is ever changing in correlation with our evolving society. Journalists have to be aware of this and also that they need to write for their target audience, which varies depending on what newspaper they are writing for.

 

Interpretation of reality

This is the reason why one particular event can appear very different in singular newspapers. Texts are a representation of the world around us, but each article is only one interpretation of that reality.

They are often written from a keyhole point of view and cannot be relied upon to show a whole picture. For example how Kinnock was represented in 1992; the press gave the public limited facts that stunted their knowledge and gave across only one representation of him.

 

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Multifaceted Reality: There can be many different ways, we as individuals absorb events and the world around us, depending on our own experiences.

 

A similar version to this is portrayed in ‘1984’ where Orwell’s description of ‘prolefeed’; which is the clipped newspaper reports of ‘IngSoc’ (English Socialism). In the book the party use their own version of language known as ‘Newspeak’ to portray their ideologies.

This example shows the fear many hold today concerning the British Press’ relationship with the government and is an example of Lifton’s ‘Milieu Control’ described as the brainwashing of people through textual mediums. It has been used in examples throughout history; communism and wartime propaganda in particular.

  News stories are used as myths, for allusion to recycled narratives that the audience can draw morals and traditions from. They act as metaphors and in doing so can promote cultural themes and values to predict how people will read a text so that the author can construct the message to manipulate a certain response.

‘Many recent studies take on an extremist view that all news is biased and cannot be trusted.’

Fowler, 1991

 He accepts there is some truth to the statement but does not use it as an underlining principle to define the entire press organisation.

 

The Modern Political Journalist

And it is here, on the other side of this catalyst that the modern day political journalist has emerged.

     Political Journalists hold a special position because they are the medium through which public opinion is held to crystallise and thus they perform the critical work on behalf of our democracies way of life

Curran, 1978

A political journalist has a lot of responsibility, arguably more so than those in other areas of journalism, as it is their responsibility to inform the reader of events that exist outside of their daily experience of life, and they must do so in a way that is clear but also critical and entertaining.

There is limited space for the autonomy of a writer as they have a duty to represent the political allegiances of the newspaper they write for and to fulfil their democratic role as being a voice of the general public.

These varying identities have the potential to alter how an article is written.

identities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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