By Martin Bosworth
Ever since I started writing professionally, my friends have asked me why I don’t go into journalism full-time. “You’d be great at it, they say–you’re a natural!” Now, maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. But even if it were, there’re a million reasons why I don’t want to enmesh myself in the modern media unless it’s on my terms. Shitty pay. Humiliating rituals of “dues paying” for newbies. Long hours. The utter vitriol and hatred of pretty much the entire free world and much of the not-so-free world.
Most of all, I wouldn’t want to be a full-time reporter because it disgusts me to see how the modern media industry has let its primary duty of telling the truth and informing the public be cast away in favor of empty snark, passive-aggressive cynicism, and the sycophantic banality of sucking up to everyone from editors to interviewees just for the sake of–what? Access? Prestige? Being the first to report on a big scoop?
There’s a truly bipolar attitude in how the media machine views itself and its relation with the world, where peevish journalists can get a video on CNN complaining about how hard it is to have to redeem rewards points for frequent flyer miles just to follow a campaign. I can almost hear Mr.
28 % 19 % saying something like “Journamalism–it’s hard work!” when I hear stuff like this…the sneering viciousness of feeling like they can make or break a politician’s reputation with a single stroke of a pen or click of a mouse (which they can), mixed with the frustration of realizing that they still have to suck up and deal with life’s everyday miseries just like the rest of us. You can even see a lot of this “entitlement viciousness” in the blogerati, many of whom are building media empires in their own right and often adopt a lot of the worst attitudes of their nemeses–witness this post from GNB’s Jesse Wendel on how the Obama campaign was a cult because the Clinton campaign treated him better.
At the same time, you have to feel a measure of both pity and scorn for anyone who would willingly put up with literally being forced to work next to a toilet–which is what happened to these correspondents on the Clinton campaign. What’s more shocking–that a candidate who desperately needs all the good press she can get would so callously treat people this way, or that so many respected pundits and journalists would so blithely accept the shit they’re being forced to eat? I’m a pretty easygoing guy and can put up with a lot, but damn, I’d turn in my notepad and call it a career if this were me.
But this is the inferiority complex of the modern media–the knowledge that just as they can shatter reputations and expose scandals with their prose and investigations, they can just as easily be cast aside and relegated to the dustbin. No one’s here to see them, after all. Who cares what they think?
That’s how you end up with the media crafting narratives like their sudden decision to go in hard on Obama after months of generally glowing press coverage. It’s a reminder that the corporate masters control what makes it into the story, and that they–not you or I–decide who gets to fit in the frame for the camera, as Denny marvelously illustrated just a few minutes ago. That edict passes down from CEOs to editors to the reporter walking the beat, which is how you end up writing poison screeds about a candidate that ends their career one minute, and sitting next to a urinal furiously typing away on deadline the next.
Both Sam and Denny teach or have taught journalism in their long and storied careers, and never hesitate to come down hard on the crappy state of modern news reporting. I’m a bit more sympathetic–I know how many hands a story passes through before it makes it to the front page of a paper or a Web site. But one thing everyone forgets in the media machine these days is this simple rule: It’s not about you. You aren’t the story. There are vast numbers of people on the planet who are born, live, and die without ever knowing or giving a fuck what David Broder thinks, or what Joe Klein thinks, or even what Martin Bosworth thinks. But they do care about the information, the story, the events–the crises and crusades that shape our times.
Journalists and reporters have immense power to shape those times. They just need to forget that they have it, and get back to the business of the story itself.