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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
 
A view from the other side of the other side

I stumbled across this post just now, and I think it merits a response. Basically, the author is trying to defend the rank and file workers in the traditional media, and she offers a couple of reasons why she does so.

Well, I have nothing personal against that, but I do have some thoughts on some of the stuff she wrote.

"I think some people have very unrealistic expectations about journalists. We are not the passionate truth seeking martyrs that so many readers would like to believe. Most of my peers are ordinary folks, for whom reporting and writing just happens to be a job."

That is, of course, indubitably so. When I gripe about the media, however, I'm usually griping about either the whole collective media or at least a publication. I mean, I'm sure most of the soldiers in Nazi Germany were really quite nice guys just doing their jobs too. That, however, does not mean that there was nothing wrong with the organisation they were in.

"And like it is in every situation, it's so easy when you're throwing stones from the other side...to pick up a magazine, or a newspaper and bitch about the unoriginality of stories, or how biased the media can be."

Of course it is. But then, we're paying publications for the privilege of bitching at them, aren't we? As the author later points out herself, these publications are commercial entities, and hence, if they wish to make money, they'd better satisfy their customers. I have encountered difficult customers as a salesperson before, and although I hated them privately, professionally I still had to concede that they had every right to expect satisfaction from me, because after all, they were paying for my services, albeit indirectly through the company which hired me.

"Yes, Tammy might have hit the online community aeons before someone else from the media sniffed out the scandal, but any self-respecting journo would have recognised the potential for a really interesting scoop that would get him a guaranteed byline in the paper the next day. And even so, has anyone ever considered that the media is perhaps, just as in-the-know as the rest of the online world? Newspapers are printed only once everyday, resulting in inevitable time lag, and less up to date information. But it only takes one second to click the button on your mouse before everything is up on the web for the world to see."

Given the constraints that she stated, yes, I agree that we must accept a time lag equal to the frequency of publication (or broadcast) for the publication (or broadcast), but why should we have to accept more than that? As she said, the online community knew about Tammy aeons before the media did. What was keeping them? The online community does whatever it does of its own volition and its members do not get paid. The media is getting paid. They are supposed to be professionals. Is it acceptable for them to be getting paid for what they do if amateurs are doing a better job than them? I mean, isn't the news supposed to by definition be new? I don't know about the rest of you guys, but when I buy the papers, I do so because I want to know what's going on in the world currently. I think it is quite unacceptable if I see stuff there that has been going around online for "aeons". It smacks of complacency and, yes, laziness. Do these professionals not even know how to work a browser and an IM client? If that is so, then perhaps it is time they hired someone to sit around in their offices and blog-surf and chat for a couple of hours each day (i.e. what many people do anyway). If they can't even do that, then perhaps the traditional media is obsolete.

"Second, I wish people would stop bitching about the trashy news you find in The New Paper. Come on. Admit it. The New Paper is like a mistress - you're totally in love with it, but it's a guilty indulgence you don't want to admit to the people around. I read The New Paper, and I totally dig its exposes. Sometimes, I don't want to read about Haditha and NKF anymore because the kaypoh in me loves a juicy story about the money-grabbing China woman and her poor, gullible, sex-deprived ex-husband.

And don't lie about how intellectual you are. Even smart people can be kaypoh. Even smart people read The New Paper."

Hmm, I don't see why she has to assume that everyone else is a nosey parker just because she is one. I can honestly claim to have read not more than 5 issues of TNP in my entire life. Then again, I am probably not such a good yardstick, since I am a true geek, and am hence much more interested in coding, news about new Linux kernels, DotA, etc than about some stupid sex scandal that does not concern me. Yeah, in my Utopia, all news would be tech news, woohoo!

"If there's readership, there are bound to be advertisers. If there are advertisers, there will surely be profits. What did you expect? Did you think newspaper publishers were self-sacrificing charitable organisations for which money is unimportant? Just like in any business, newspaper publishers want to rake in the profits too."

Hence I do not think it is unreasonable to expect their news to at least be current. As a matter of fact, I think we would all expect less from newspapers if they were indeed "self-sacrificing charitable organizations for which money is unimportant".

"If it means publishing a so-called tabloid newspaper with trashy stories, then that's what they'll do. As long as readership is sustained, it makes good business sense."

I think it is a sad state of affairs when newspapers become tabloids out of economic necessity. What's next? Child pr0n, bestiality and necrophilia columns justified in the name of "not neglecting our readers who just happen to be perverts"?

"Third, the media isn't always biased and non-objective. Our stories may lack colour and animation, but many times, it's because you - yes you - the general public are extremely inarticulate and seldom have any opinions of your own."

It's a vicious cycle. You feed your public garbage, hence they become dumber, hence they lack opinions, hence you feel free to feed them more garbage, ad nauseam.

The favourite answer to a what-do-you-think type question is most often, 'Har? I don't know.'

Fuck. Don't know. What kind of a moron does not know what his own opinion is?

Well, I think it would be a fair bet that if I asked her for her opinion about whether she preferred Gentoo Linux or NetBSD, her opinion would either be an uninformed one or "don't know". How can you venture an opinion from a position of ignorance?

"So please, before complaining about the media, think first about what goes on on the other side. We are just normal folk doing our jobs."

Well, we, too, are just normal folk who expect to get our money's worth when we pay for something. We quite frankly do not care about the situation on the other side, because really, why is that any of our business? It quite simply does not concern us, and I hope any journalists or aspiring journalists, or indeed anyone who wishes to sell a good or service realises this. When people fork out, they expect to get what they forked out for. If you're unable to provide that, count yourself lucky if all you get are complaints instead of your ass sued off, which we all know has in fact happened to journalists before, for various reasons.
 
Comments:
oh well, this debate could go on forever. but i have 100000000 deadlines to meet and am feeling mentally sluggish so just one thing.

contrary to what you assume, the i-don't-know answer surfaces in response to even the simplest of questions. such as:

1) if you had the freedom to develop such and such a plot of land, what would you like it to become?

2) what do you think creativity is about?

3) why do you think service in singapore is so bad?

standard answer from 8 out of 10: "Har? I donno."

i can vomit blood.
 
Hahaha, this is a good analysis of the debate that's often been played out in Sg. I do sympathise with the "constraints" excuse, but only to a certain extent. Everyone faces constraints, and people who succeed are those who produce good stuff inspite of them. Journalism isn't just another job, the profession does have a loftier purpose than to make money.

I think interviewers have to select the right interviees if they want a response. Predictably young people would be freer with their views. It's quite possible that people who aren't proficient in English get intimidated when posed question in English.


Me
 
Also see : Befehl ist Befehl
 
Ultimately, it is a tough balancing act.

On one hand, some journalists have to write "expose stories" such as those in TNP which rake in the readership. This is where we have to look at ourselves why we even buy the the papers in the first place. Is something wrong with our society that such "trashy" tabloids (which some or most of us think TNP is) even have such high readership? I mean, there is actually DEMAND for these kind of stories. If there's DEMAND, there's SUPPLY.

Conversely, journalists have to keep up with the demands of other readers that cry for better quality, unbiased articles. Usually, these articles are dry but essentially thought-provoking, but only reaches out to a section of the population that is fairly intellectual.

Hence, SPH has modelled their product offering such that TNP is fashioned somewhat like the British tabloids, whereas ST is still a mainstream newspaper.

Lastly, we should remember that media companies are commercial institution. It has to answer to its shareholders, who want to see profits. Therefore, anything with profits goes. Of course, readers have a say with their feedback too, so in the end, its a tough job.
 
It's precisely because we're not paid professionals that the 'citizen media' can 'report' on more things then 'traditional media'.

While it's true that the traditional media moves slower than online media, you have to keep in mind that while it seems otherwise, the net savvy amongst us are still the minority.

There are a lot more uncles, aunties, boys and girls out there who rely more on TV, ST & NP (urgh) to get their daily fix than know about a Digg (which will change with the current generation growing older).

If we were paid to do these professionals' jobs instead, we'd end up with the same loaded baggage that comes with the paycheque.
 
En & Hou: I do agree that it is difficult to refuse an order from a legitimate superior, no matter how wrong you think that the order is. Ultimately, it is history that judges us all, I suppose.

Soulgroove: I suppose many aspects of many people's lives can be described as a tough balancing act. However, that does not mean that we shouldn't try to do a good job. Forget journalistic integrity and balanced reporting, all I'm saying is that it would surely not be too difficult to give the readers news that is current? I mean, if amateurs who hold other jobs can do it, then surely professionals who only spend the better parts of their days gathering news can do it too.

Alvin: That's precisely my point. I think that, with time, the very concept of journalism (at least in its present form) may very well become obsolete, since the need for that profession has its basis on a certain scarcity of information. As the general population grows ever more aware of information technology in general and the internet in particular, the inefficient propagation of information upon which the need for the news is founded may very well disappear or at least be marginalised.
 
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