We Should Give News Priority Over Gossip

by Beth Cherryman

(Melton Times  21.07.2011)

Journalism is a profession in crisis. Ethically, financially and socially news organisations have lost perspective. But who is to blame?

The revelations about the News of the World (NOTW) are a warning that the actual practice of journalism can deviate substantially from the standards of good journalistic practice and perhaps irreconcilably from the standards of human decency.

But is it our fault that newspapers turn to these dark practices? The NOTW only fills its pages with celebrity scandals, political malpractice and the Royals because it sells papers. We are not readers now, but consumers. Look to the ‘most read’ statistics on any news website to see celebrity stories generate thousands more page views than hard news. As consumers we dictate content.

This is not to absolve any newsmen of responsibility – they kept secret their shady tactics. But tight budgets required they met demand.

When we thought it was only celebrity’s phones that were hacked, there was very little (if any) public up-roar. Not to down play the frankly criminal actions of the NOTW in the Milly Dowler case, but if it’s the principle that concerns us then phone-hacking a celebrity or a corrupt politician should be met with equal disgust.

It is wrong to taint every reporter at the NOTW. Indeed most reporters, now unemployed, were probably honest and hard working.  The issue is not about individuals. The entire news industry is the subject for this much needed conversation. What constitutes news and what lengths should reporters go to obtain it? We, the public, have dodged these questions too long.

Good hard-hitting journalism will always cost. If we want to hold our politicians, councillors and businesses to account, locally and nationally, then we must support news organisations. Let us give news priority over gossip.

Otherwise, what place is there for newspapers in our society?