Slag the blues

All my life, I’ve been trying to be outstanding.

More specifically, what I mean by that is I try to live my life in a manner that stands me out from my peers…or just people generally. I seek to be different. Being the odd one, the creme, the needle, the sore thumb, the subtle plan that painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing ‘Subtle Plans Are Here Again’. Not in terms of physical appearance, which I delegate mostly to nature, but most certainly in behaviour.

It’s almost a religion. It establishes my belief system, permeates my consciousness and informs my identity. I don’t do self-worship, in case you’re wondering; don’t have to be either theist or deist to be religious. But I do put blind faith into the coherence of this philosophical framework, if you can pardon the starking illogicality in that.

And besides, there is significant economy in being palpably, favourably distinctive; branding, niche marketing, and all that. A panacean shortcut to a good future; a decent career, a lovely spouse, a moving eulogy.

Presumably that was what Jan Moir was up to when she penned her Femail column that was published on Friday’s Daily Mail. Being different. Pushing the envelope. Testing the waters. All in the name of securing that wee bit of a better future.

To be honest, she was not being radically different. She generally stayed within the boundaries of the Mail’s almost ecclesiastical world view. Moir, after all, is only really pitting herself against fellow Mail columnists; her ilk is distinctive enough from the rest of Fleet Street as it is.

Fleet Street Blues, an anonymous blog by journalists on industry issues and work opportunities, noted something along similar lines when it sang a contrarian tune to the mainstream outbursts of indignation.

On Saturday, it ran a post “in defence of Jan Moir and the Daily Mail“, drumming up the over-worked adage: “The Daily Mail is a great paper, because its every article is written single-mindedly for the benefit of its readers. Not its journalists (bold and red text in original blogpost).”

Powerful words. Its profoundness was so astounding, it turned legions of strawmen into uncomplicated heaps of cattle fodder. In the meantime, the bourgeois Guardianistas still bay for Moir’s blood at the ramparts before Northcliffe House, their anger undoused.

The essence of the “defence” (see: diversion) is that the Mail, while lacking the savoir-faire to serve up sensible delectables to the upper, educated-classes, has the panache to deliver the unsavoury dishes for those who don’t know any better. The consummate chefs par excellence, insofar as their customers walk away contented ignoramuses.

In any case, it is from this platform, Fleet Street Blues shrouds Moir’s battered professional dignity with a protective veil, suggesting that she had only done what a good chef would – please the customers. Ergo, so long as the customers are satisfied and their sensibilities unchallenged, subtantiated and cohesively-presented truth can go string itself up the mizzen yardarm and be left to die.

It is not readily apparent how being a “great product” provides a newspaper with any insulation from journalistic principles. Presumably Tony Blair could be forgiven his role in the Iraq War for his exemplary marketing of the idea of invasion as an appropriate response to a non-existent WMD programme. Lie to us if you must, luv. But be damn sure to do a bloody good job of it.

Perhaps one day, that the “Daily Mail is a great product” argument is as ignominous as the Nuremberg defence will become self-evident. I have a dream, too.

I don’t really want to talk any more about Moir at this point, as it would quickly drown me into anonymity within the already tumultuous ocean of Tweetospheric fury. Instead, I shall utilise Fleet Street Blue’s gambit – using the Jan Moir furore as a peg for indulging my opinion on a related but discrete issue.

Fleet Street Blues is probably not a cohesive entity; it is, as they describe, “a small group of working or mostly-working junior journalists”. So for me to malign them as a singular body, as I have, might be terrifically unfair, seeing that they aren’t an autocracy and certainly not Dacre’s Mail. Nonetheless, the posts in question were without bylines, so I can only direct my words at the group as a whole.

Yesterday, after leaping before the storm of steel beating down upon Moir in an act of bravado (as opposed to bravura), it followed up with a similarly ill-judged comment on a piece of “‘citizen journalism’ that actually works”.

Triumphalist it began: “Forget crowd-sourcing and all that other nonsense – this is how ‘citizen journalism’ will actually change traditional journalism, for the better.

This” was actually video footage of a London Underground steward verbally abusing a commuter at Holborn station, caught by businessman Jonathan McDonald.

As we saw at the G20 protests,” the writer continued, “the presence of cameras, everywhere, combined with teh [sic] internet, changes everything. Even a year ago, this kind of appalling but very brief, workaday incident would have gone entirely unremarked – now, it’s national news within 24 hours. We’re all journalists now (once again, bold and red text in the original, which makes you worry for the writer, who has to constantly resort to eyecatching gimmicks to demonstrate emphasis).”

By providing news reporters with the basic leads of a story and visual evidence of certain pertinent facts involved, one has essentially joined their ranks in practice, if not in professional title.

I’m not too sure what’s so new about this. For years now a good proportion of the millions of CCTVs installed around the country have been performing exemplary journalistic work, and receiving great airtime on Crimewatch and the six o’clock news. Runs like clockwork, never tires, misses nothing within its sights, and yields some stunning visuals to boot. And in the last few years, we’ve been indulged by the masterful insights they’ve provided into the 7/7 bombings, de Menezes’ death, Stacey Lawrence’s murder, daring heists at jewellers…countless. Can’t understand why news organisations don’t hire more of them.

What leaps and bounds we’ve made since those terrible days when doing what McDonald did would simply make one a source. Or an eyewitness, if he or she fancied a title with a tad more animateness. Dickensian times those were, when journalists would have to speak to the newsmakers and eyewitnesses to establish facts, seek out corroborating evidence to verify firsthand accounts, and compose a comprehensive context to the story before actually turning out material for publication. Tough work that is. Good job that journalists don’t need to do any of that to be considered a professional these days.

But I jest, with due sense of disdain and dread. If that is Fleet Street Blues’ idea of journalism, then we’re in bad shape, fellas.

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~ by spiegel2071 on October 19, 2009.

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