Monday, December 29, 2008

The Value Of Online Journalism

My occasional correspondent, the Donald Sutherland lookalike Professor Tim Luckhurst, has published an 'Us and Them' piece on his belief in the inherent superiority of print media's investigative journalism over that of online's on 'Comment is Free', entitled 'Buy a newspaper for democracy'.
To be fair to Professor Luckhurst, a difficult sentiment to which one must compel oneself as an act of Christian charity (loving your neighbour as yourself must include loving the neighbour who seemed to threaten to sue you), the irony of him publishing this piece on a website does not seem to escape him.
However as with almost all opinion journalism, online or otherwise, there are gaping chasms in his thought.
Online investigative journalism has had several significant success stories. It was online journalism that exposed Stephen Glass as a fraud. It was online journalism that brought down Eason Jordan. And it was online journalism that kicked off the bringing down of Dan Rather.
It is interesting to note that Eason Jordan himself once wrote of how adept the news media can be at hiding the truth from the public for its own purposes. On April 11 2003, he published an editorial in the 'New York Times' entitled 'The News We Kept To Ourselves', outlining how CNN adopted a double or quits strategy of not reporting Iraqi atrocities during Gulf War I in the hope of better scoops down the line. That this was probably good business for a news business is not in dispute - by the same token, it cannot also be disputed that it was ignoring horrible crimes in the hope of making future gains. Not much interest in the absolute truth there.
There has been a pattern to online's investigative successes; the biggest scalps it has claimed thus far have been those of media people. Juvenal asked, 'But who is to guard the guards'? Pyjama guys all around the world rose as one and answered 'We will'; and for as long as the history of the media is written it will be noted that for all its legion faults, the Internet was the first mechanism by which the British and American media were properly monitored. It's so good at it that the authorities want to censor it; in itself, an unofficial admission of its success.
When all is said and done, Professor Luckhurst takes money to teach journalism. Presumably he thinks his students are a cut above pyjama work, and that every one's a potential Woodward. Fine, let them prove it. A small challenge for Professor Luckhurst, if he's up for it and stuck for something to do during the academic holidays; I've sat through enough of his prose, so let's see if he can sit through mine.
On December 15 this year, I made one of my few forays into investigative journalism. I discovered that on 30 March 1998, Tony Blair gave an answer to the House of Commons which appeared to directly contradict evidence given by Kenneth Clarke to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards three years earlier. One view which could be taken of this is that the Prime Minister misled Parliament regarding a matter which some consider to be of the utmost seriousness.
This investigation took approximately ten minutes to complete, yet the story has not appeared in any print medium. I would be very interested to know whether Professor Luckhurst would consider it likely that it ever will. I will spare him the effort of actually reading it. The answer will be 'No'.
"One of the things about journalists is—and I’m a financial journalist—is that they write what they’re told to."
Something to bear in mind whenever you buy a newspaper.


Blogger James Higham said...

Dogmatic statements like "this media is better" are always going to find exceptions.

29 December, 2008 18:42  

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