Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Ours is not to reason why?

How do we escape the banal pressures of this world? Keeping integrity and being a journalist (or pursuing many other professions, I chose journalism because it’s what I’m doing) seem to be mutually exclusive in this world. Why do we stand for it?

The general logic seems to go like this, so young and upcoming person, to get to a position where you might do something useful you first need to do something that is totally pointless, and another, and another… until you feel the crazy need to perpetuate this Sisyphean cycle of pointlessness.

As a writer the development of blogging has to be regarded as an exciting development simply because of the gradual capitulation of many publications to faff. That this faff is driven by a commercial agenda must be true because it is not the case that the readers stand anything to gain from it. When we buy something to read, our desire to consume things is generally latent in comparison to our desire to be provided with interesting objective information. Yet, even when we buy Time Out or some other listings magazine we want it to provide honest opinion.

Recently one of my journalism lecturers was explaining the way the advertising department and editorial in local papers combine in an effort to tie in the article with a commercial interest. Potential clients drive this trade to the extent a bad review of a restaurant will lead to a stern word from the advertising department. As a reader knowing this, would you want to take the advice of this magazine as to where to eat? Surely, you would begin to realise that the publication only ever writes good reviews. Also, if you ever went to a place that was genuinely bad on the recommendation of an article you would not trust the source again. Even the advertisers lose in the long term with such a policy, for the publication, having been dismissed as useless, will be consigned to the dustbin and any true opinion will be treated with scepticism.

The modern journalist keen to write about things in the world that actually matter, but determined to earn his shilling, is in a dilemma. Endless publications flourish perpetuating cynicism towards the trade, yet because they agree to act as the Pravda of certain companies, these bulldozers of the Amazon for Amazon provide the starving journo with a ready source of cash. On the other hand, the journo can launch out to limbo trying to carve out a precedent of value but with few means of publishing or being provided with payment. The latter has to be the noble option, yet the cycle of madness and its control over us can sometimes seem inevitable. To the writer sitting shivering in the garret the temptation of writing for the quick buck can be overwhelming in the desperation to survive and be read. He reaches for his quill agonized by the way his ideas only seem to have an outlet if they are used to sell something and gradually descends into a useless prose machine. Why do we let this continue? How do we change it?

15 comments:

billstickers said...

You're not going to change that now, Toby. The end result of the whole advertising culture we have created is that the man in the street will never again be prepared to pay the price for quality information or entertainment.

You're in the biz. Do a quick assessment of how much a "quality" magazine would have to be priced at, if it contained no advertising whatsoever.

Do it twice. Once to find the minimum price (a) for an existing magazine, and once more the magazine that readers being asked to pay (a) would then demand. Heck, do it a thrid time. And so on...

What we really have now is Exchange and Mart with features to attract would be exchangers and martyrs.

In order to screen you for career suitability, the owners must discover whether your brain can support long periods of lizard-mode.

Welcome to the world.

Toby Lewis said...

This is exactly why I'm a great fan of state subsidy for the arts. The quality of the BBC remains high because it does not need to always bow to commercial pressures.

Interestingly the advertising budget is shrinking at most hard copy publications, largely due to those funds being directed to the internet instead. This should be treated as an opportunity for all to refuse to accept taking a particular editorial agenda set by some outside company keen on selling things.

Yet what it seems to mean in actuality is many papers will close down. My hope is the ones that end on the scrap-heap sooner are those which lose any semblance of independent thinking or quality writing in the search of appeasing potential clients which want a quick plug.

zola said...

Thanks Toby : Now I see and like your appreciation of a Socrates ( the pest or the torpedo as he has been called). More please.

Billstickers : You make good sense and point. As toby asks : "the point is to change the world not just interpret" or something like that.

Torpedo shocks have a place always but so too another kind of realistic communication where "truth" is always on the way anyway.

These Awkward blogs have widened my horizons and will do more - I hope.

Just to "softly touch" these awkward blogs releases so much that is already "out there".

Toby Lewis said...

What's not to like about Socrates?

I guess the tendency of surrounding yourself with handsome lackeys to agree with you and do your bidding is perhaps vanity.

As you're a fan of Wilde I imagine you can't have much to complain about such an approach to life?

The complete works of Plato is one of the best purchases I ever made. It only costs around 20 quid and he helped shape the philosophy business as we know it.

That said, I think it was Bernard Williams who pointed out that despite Plato and Descartes being regarded as the fathers of ancient and modern Western Philosophy the greatest insult you can give a modern analytic philosopher is to call them a Cartesian or a Platonist.

anticant said...

Credit where it's due, the sane compartments of Mr sticker's brain produce sage advice and I'd go along with that. If you're in the business, Toby, never forget Dr. Johnson's maxim that "only a blockhead writes except for money". You've got to make your scribblings PAY! Dismal though the scene is, there are still a few quality outlets willing to pay for thoughtful, well-crafted pieces. I presume you've got the Artist's and Writer's Yearbook and similar tools?

When I was young - and, I regret to say, idealistic - I wanted to write to influence people. I was lucky in knowing the assistant editor of a highly respected provincial daily newspaper, and when I left university I got a job there with rosy visions of becoming a Great Opinion Former. Alas, it only lasted six months, because the editor [my friend's boss] was an old skinflint who refused to pay me more than a pittance. So I left, tail between my legs, and looked around for other openings. I got offered a job by someone who produced a series of fun magazines with titles like "Laughs with the Lovelies" - not my cup of tea, really. Eventually I did a lot of writing, but not much mainstream journalism except for a few years' Saturday subbing on "The Observer" under its great editor, David Astor.

It was all so much better in Victorian times! The rot set in with mass circulation tabloid journalism, pioneered by buccaneers like Northcliffe. The saying was that he created a paper for people who couldn't think, and called it the "Daily Mail", and then he realised that there were a lot of people who couldn't read, so he started the "Daily Mirror". Such is life.

zola said...

Toby : let me avoid comments from Antican here, two very different stories I suspect. Let me be without disagreement as such.

Anyways Socrates can be said to have been fucked up by Plato. Could it be that Plato was the death of Socrates?

I doubt it because so many people still try and get into that old fart world.

Shock-lines remain intact as it were. Adventure remains does it not?

Could it be that Socrates would enjoy the internet?
Would it be be that Plato might be an advertising exec for "Comments is Free"?
I remain in tune with Karl Jaspers here. Socrates, like many others, did not force their ways upon others. But to move peradventure? Then OK.
Even the conservative Popper might agree with this comment that is free.
Socrates would be great on this website stuff. Like it I would.

zola said...

Was that Daily Mirror some kind of cave?

Frank Fisher said...

This is exactly why I'm a great fan of state subsidy for the arts.

Urgh.

Still, I suppose it takes all sorts. Toby, I've worked across publishing, everything that is published has one eye on the paymasters, and that usually means advertisers. Not always of course - sometimes it's Tessa Jowell.

I don't think I've ever met an editor who will back journalistic integrity against a cash payoff either. It's the way it is.

Toby Lewis said...

Surely isn't it the public the BBC needs to be worried about? They are both the source of Jowell and Thompson's pay packets. If we as a populace tire of the BBC then we can always get rid of it. If a government does underservingly we can chuck them out.

Toby Lewis said...

Anticant - I'll remember to take Dr Johnson's advice when I can find someone or some editors who are willing to make my work pay. At the moment, blogging provides a public and is exciting, though making money out of it will be very difficult if impossible.

Unless, like Zola's Plato we jump towards ad execs and their ilk. Socrates, though, managed to survive wining and dining on his friends, which perhaps indicates if you're brilliant enough you can avoid the whole merry crew in your lifetime. Yet sadly you'll still be immortalised and twisted by the person who understands slightly better society's rules on your death. Socrates and Plato, Jesus and Paul....

zola said...

Poor ole Confucius and the ole Buddy always get ignored.

But would this also invite Hemingway into the fold of death as ....

For me I shall be buried at sea

Szwagier said...

"The modern journalist keen to write about things in the world that actually matter"

Matter to whom, Toby? You're suggesting that lots of journalists write about things that don't matter. I disagree. They obviously to someone or they wouldn't get written.

Toby Lewis said...

But is what matters all about to whom something matters? A journalist's writing will often be read but does the general presence of reams and reams of football writing, celeb gossip and general consumerist crap actually mean it is important? There is much to talk about in the world and the media often fails to fulfill this need by sticking to safer and more inane topics. Why?

Szwagier said...

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it was because the majority of readers are more comfortable with football writing, celeb gossip and consumerist crap.

And, really, why shouldn't they be? If everybody went around with furrowed brows like we do none of the essential day-to-day stuff would get done. We're lucky (or unlucky, dependng on how you look at it) enough to have the luxury of another point of view. Most of humanity can't afford that.

zola said...

well Toby and Szwagi and all : I just had to respond. Today i have sinned. I have written about football on me site.