Anywhere in the world, it's a bad time to be a journalist. Once a romanticised occupation, we were seen as a bunch daring and fearless investigators. We were once loveable characters that were more often than not pictured as fedora clad, chain-smoking and heavy drinking scallywags. Yet these days when someone asks what you do for a crust and you say Journalist, you may as well be saying to them you make a living selling cigarettes to school kids!
The look of disgust on people's faces when I mention my profession is usually accompanied by them saying. "I can't believe what you people call news these days".
And I always reply; "Yeah, but whose fault is that?".
Last week national strikes in Greece threatened once again to cripple Europe. There were 245 dead reported in Syria, 80 of which were found in one mass grave. And the North Koreans again threatened to march below the 38th parallel sparking a conflict that could potentially plunge the world into Nuclear War.
However if you were in Australia during this time, you would not have known any of this. Because it wasn't the evil totalitarian state of North Korea making headlines, but a single South Korean known as 'PSY'.
Down Under on a publicity tour, the hype was inescapable. As it appears that the bloke has as much talent as other great long lasting musical acts such as MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and Rick Astley, was his presence an event of such extreme importance that he warranted featuring in every news bulletin of the day, every day of the week?
Not in my opinion, however, with over half a billion hits on You Tube, the public certainly seems to think that he does. So this unexplainable phenomenon known as PSY became newsworthy.
By Friday, as pretty much all PSY story angles had been explored, we Journalists were 'clutching at straws' to deliver the next Gangnam installment . So, the major debate that ended up dogging headlines that day was whether or not Australian X Factor Judge Melanie Brown, aka "Scary Spice" was wearing underwear or going 'commando' when she got up on stage next to PSY to dance 'Gangnam Style'.
To justify it to myself, I argued that questions surrounding an ageing Pop Stars knickers or lack thereof could be interesting to some. Hey, it definitely warranted a couple of 'cheeky puns' in the gossip tabloids (see what I did there?).
Yet deep in my heart, I knew that such a trivial matter shouldn't have had any airtime in National News Bulletins or take up any precious column inches in newspapers. Sadly, this story did both.
It's no wonder 'some people' get upset that we no longer tackle the 'serious issues' in the news. All I ask is those people don't blame me, because it is not my fault alone. While I am at it, I should also say it's not my Executive Producer's fault. Nor is it my News Director's, Station's CEO, or for that matter even the Media Baron's fault. To be brutally honest, the blame belongs to everyone!
Curse the journalists as much as you like, but you're the ones watching!
Most newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations are commercial entities. So while we do a great public service, as Journalists we do not work for charities. We're employees of businesses that run just like yours. So I want you to ask yourself; whether you sell tyres, mortgages, sneakers or stationary. Does your company aim to make what they think is the best possible product without consultation? Or do they listen to the market and then make what the public wants to buy?
No company will last long making a product no-one will use. Same goes with the media, we can't afford to make anything that no one will read or watch.
I've actually had people say to me "You should be ashamed of yourself". Shame on me you say? Really, shame on you! Shame on us!
Does anyone really think we pluck random stories out of thin air? News stories and their importance are measured by how many people watch them. While ratings aren't bulletproof, they're the best tool for determining what the public wants that we've got.
Higher ratings allow us to charge more for commercials, which means more money. Our objective is to stop you changing the channel. We attempt to fill every minute of air time with what viewers want. Some people even have this down to a science. I worked for an Executive Producer once who possessed the most brilliant television mind I will ever see in my lifetime. I'd go and pitch a story to him or what I believed to be an important news issue and he'd say something like; "No, I tried doing that in 1998 and 362,000 viewers changed channel before the package ended, the public doesn't care."
I learned more of this bloke in a short time than I will the rest of my career, and the greatest lesson he ever taught me was; "The public knows what matters to them, they're smart, so give them what they want". He also told me; "Never be so self-righteous that you think you know best and try make important something they don't care about... They'll turn straight off!"
So while I personally think there are more important things happening in the world, if the viewers want to know if a Spice Girl is 'freebuffing'... Then it's my job to go and find out. That's what I get paid for so I would appreciate it if you stop approaching me in the pub or at social functions giving me such a hard time about it! Do I hassle you about what you do for a living?
If you don't believe me that the public is the reason the news isn't newsworthy, let's pretend every single one of us is the 'News Directors' and let us put the public in charge.
2011 saw some historical world events. There were the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi. There was the truly horrific natural disaster in Japan and economically, the terrifying uncertainty during the European Sovereign Debt Crisis.
So as the United Kingdom's New News Directors- Which of those stories did you decide to run?
The answer is none of them.
That's right. Using Britain's Top Ten Google searches from 2011 as judge, Britons did not place value in any of those 'major' news events. In fact, there were only two out of the top ten searches that you'd consider 'traditional news stories'. They were The Royal Wedding and the FIFA 2012 World Cup. The other eight items were all entertainment stories or consumer based ones.
This is why it bothers me when all over the world when people act so superior and give Journalists a hard time. Don't tell me you want to be better informed about European Bailouts or an exit strategy for Afghanistan. Because when these stories come on the television you change the channel. When they're in the paper, you turn the page.
There is nothing wrong enjoying what could be described as 'Tabloid Journalism'... So why do we try to pretend we're better than it?
I'm a tabloid journalist and the truth is I would rather report on a trashy tabloid story about a Pop Star's undies watched by a million viewers any day of the week over doing a noble and credible story about some rare and endangered Bolivian tree-moth watched by no-one!
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