There are many lessons that our current "Prime Minister" is seemingly yet to learn — mostly to do with personal grooming and the dangers of eternal hellfire. But the one which has the most severe impact on our quality of life is this:
Do you understand me, Prime Minister, or to give you your official title, "Vice-Bob"? Words hurt. They cut, they slash, they wound, they bind, torture and kill. Maybe you might think of that the next time you go standing in front of a bunch of innocent journalists to say to them, unprovoked, "Don’t write crap".
I’m telling you I could hardly believe my ears. "Don’t write crap"? Is this the level to which our political discourse has fallen, that our own prime minister can be so rude, uncouth and mean-spirited? "It can’t be that hard," she smirked.
Oh really, Ms Gillard? It can’t be that, can it? Really? Have you ever tried it? Do you know what it’s like to be a journalist, to spend your life riding this mighty tiger called Media, to dedicate every waking moment to the pursuit of stories and/or child molesters? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA? No, of course you don’t. Look at your well-manicured hands, your carefully styled hair, your carefree, silvery laugh. Clearly you have not done a day’s real reportage in your life. So allow me to inform you of a few goddamn facts, your majesty.
Fact number one: It IS hard. Not writing crap, I mean. It’s about the hardest thing in the world.
You really can’t understand how hard it is not to write crap until you’ve sat down in front of your computer and attempted to write something which enlightens as it entertains, informs as it grips, and sells papers even as it elevates democracy. Only when you’ve tried to do that will you realise that it’s actually impossible and what you’re going to end up writing is crap.
I mean, not that it’s inevitable that you’ll write crap. It’s possible to not write crap; it’s just that you always will. It’s the curse of journalism: the desire to write something worthwhile exists in a constant tension with the modern world’s ceaseless hunger for poor-quality journalistic excrement. In a way, it’s not the media’s fault: it’s the public’s, for allowing us to reach adulthood.
Let us take a hypothetical example to illustrate just how difficult the PM’s dictum is. Let us say you are at a journalist working at a major metropolitan newspaper, having once dreamt big dreams but nowadays finding yourself jaded and disillusioned by the daily failure of your career to in any way resemble Superman: the Movie. Let us say your gruff yet kindly editor calls you in to assign you to a big story: the rumour of a major economic reform being thrashed out behind closed doors that will transform the way we live and do business in this country forever. Suddenly, reinvigorated with the passionate zeal of the true reporter by the promise of a career-making scoop, you tuck your "Press" card into your hatband and rush off to the corridors of power to sniff out the story, which when it breaks will spark furious debate and momentous upheaval around the country.
However, on your way to the corridors of power, you run into a junior political staffer, who takes you to pub/sex shop in downtown Canberra and tells you some fascinating stories. Next thing you know you’re waking up on the War Memorial lawns stark naked and the front page story in your paper is about how the PM bought a pair of imported Chinese earrings even though there is an Australian-made earring warehouse next door to her mother’s house. The following day you are promoted to CEO of Foxtel.
A cautionary tale? Perhaps. But it just goes to show how easy and enjoyable it is to write crap without even meaning to. It’s all very well to have fine intentions, but what are you supposed to do when your fine intentions rub up against your innately slimy nature? And all we journalists have this slimy nature, it’s why we’re journalists and not pioneering burns treatment researchers. And it’s a difficult thing to resist: what are you supposed to do when you have an appointment to meet a source who will reveal massive corruption and criminal activity at the highest levels of government, but as you’re leaving you get a text message telling you who’s been eliminated from Dancing with the Stars? Just ignore the message? What sort of journalist would that make you?
It’s all about priorities: journalists cannot be expected to cover all bases. There are not infinite resources. We do not, technically, have human emotions. We do not have time for them. We are BUSY. Know what that means, you lazy socialists? No, I didn’t think so.
You have no idea what sort of pressures journalists are under. Deadlines, late nights, heavy drinking, free tickets to terrible concerts. Sometimes we have to ride on buses. And worst of all, every day we have to listen to politicians talking and talking and talking and talking and they never say ANYTHING interesting and whenever you ask them a question they say "I’m happy to answer that question" but then they NEVER DO and they keep repeating the same phrases over and over and they laugh at things that aren’t funny and they wave their hands around as if they hatched from an egg last night and had to learn how to act like a human being from an illustrated textbook that they didn’t have time to finish reading and then they say something like "I’m not going to speculate on interest rates" or "I won’t engage in hypotheticals" and you just want to scream, "WHY? WHY WON’T YOU ENGAGE IN HYPOTHETICALS? THEY ARE A PERFECTLY VALID FORM OF RATIONAL INQUIRY YOU SMUG BASTARD" but you can’t because you’ll get thrown out and lose your accreditation and end up working for Picture magazine trying to persuade teenagers to admit they like girls.
Which gets a bit wearing after a while.
And even if you’re not hanging with the politicians, it’s a hard life. We’re subject to severe abuse, from interviewees, members of the public, and even our own editors. As non-journalists you probably don’t realise what a grind it is in the newsroom. Editors rule us with iron fists. Only last week I tentatively approached the editor of New Matilda with a suggestion for an article about the degradation of parliamentary procedure, and I barely escaped with my life. I still can’t sit down.
And yet we don’t complain, unless by "complain" you mean "talk a lot about how hard things are and blame everyone but ourselves for our problems". But apart from that, we don’t complain. We just get on with the job, exposing corruption, informing the public, and going on TV to talk to each other about how unfair everyone’s being to us. And we do it all for you. For the public good. We ask for nothing in return but money and the opportunity to interfere personally in the political process. After all, wasn’t it HL Mencken who said, "A democracy cannot flourish without a robust press to interview itself on the radio"? I believe it was, although I have not verified my source on that.
The point is, we work hard. We go the extra mile in the pursuit of truth. And occasionally, yes, perhaps we overstep the line. Perhaps sometimes we "invade privacy". Perhaps sometimes we "display bias". Perhaps sometimes we "engage in massive, widespread and systemic criminal behaviour" and then "lie" about it. Or perhaps we don’t. Perhaps we’re all pretty great and you should leave us alone. Because this IS a democracy, we NEED a free press. And if the price we pay is a little sensationalism, a little shallowness, a little "crap", then so be it. We write crap because we care. The PM would be well-advised to keep this in mind.
Lay off the media. We’re doing the best we can under difficult circumstances. And sure, we might be writing crap, but imagine the alternative!
I mean, wait, no, don’t do that.
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