Yes – Matt Leighton – 38%
As I write this article, I know for sure what readers will be thinking. ‘I’m not responsible for phone hacking, intrusive paparazzi or fake news’. As a student of a liberal, bougie university in the middle of nowhere, that’s probably true. When I walk into Tesco at 9 pm in search of the last crumbs of a meal-deal, I often notice that several copies of The Mail and The Sun remain unpurchased, doomed to reside in tabloid landfill for all eternity. The vast majority of St Andrews students can hold their heads high, integrity intact, knowing that their dime is funding organic hummus rather than low quality, morally questionable journalism. However, as ‘the public’, we make some truly terrible decisions with our money.
This is certainly not limited to simply the press. Let’s take for example the films of Adam Sandler. Some of his early work was truly visionary; to me, Happy Gilmore ranks along – side such timeless classics as Citizen Kane, Casablanca and Hot Tub Time Machine 2. However, Mr Sandler in recent years has tarnished his considerable reputation by putting out some real stinkers. Almost every critic, myself included, was left physically sickened by such dreck as Jack and Jill – a film so offensively poor that I can only conclude that it was made as a joke. Yet that film made a profit of over seventy million dollars. For every Guardian-reading, quinoa-purchasing St Andrean there are five Sun Reading, Rustlers eating, Mrs Browns Boys watchers out there. It’s for that reason, and that reason alone, that our press acts as it does. It is a sad reality of our Kafkaesque, sapping capitalistic existence that all publications live and die by their ability to generate revenue, and this is completely down to the decisions of the consumer.
The choices of editors the world over reflect that literature must bend to the dark collective will of the consumer public, or starve and die. The dawn of the internet and instant-reaction news culture has rendered analysis, nuance and journalistic integrity obsolete at every turn. This destruction of high-quality media can be best seen through the fate of the British comic book institution: The Beano. Back in the days of dial-up internet, when the world was simpler and Mum only let me play RuneScape for one hour a day, my subscription to The Beano provided me and thousands of other children with adulterated, traditional entertainment. However, with younger and younger kids being introduced to a wild west of seedy content online, The Beano never stood a chance in our modern world. Instead of waiting a whole week to see Dennis the Menace beat up weaker, effeminate boys for amusement, the nipper of today access a bounty of violence, bad language and drug use at the touch of a button.
Much like the Beano, the audience for cold, hard news reporting with journalistic reporting has died because no-one wants it anymore. Currently, the top headline on the Mail Online states that ‘The Entire Football Season Could Be Declared Null and Void’ due to Coronavirus, meaning Liverpool would miss out yet again on Premier League glory. This headline is of course technically true, in the same way that I ‘could’ pull Taylor Swift in 601; there’s nothing in the laws of physics preventing it, but I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath. However, as the consumer does not care about such impracticalities as truth or integrity, that article has been shared fifty thousand times.
This pursuit of online engagement often takes a much more sinister form Just last week, the Mail Online published photos of the flat where Caroline Flack tragically ended her own life. If you think about it, that’s messed up. Instead of the paper considering the wishes of her family and respectfully reporting the fact, the consumer is offered views of smashed furniture, unwashed clothes and discarded food wrappers. The Mail Online did not see those photos as symbols of human suffering; they saw them as an opportunity for likes on Facebook.
I could suggest to you that the public should no longer consume low-quality, amoral articles and instead reward those who create considered, balanced and kind content. However, that would be a pointless gesture; your average consumer is not reading opinion articles in The Saint, they’re too busy tagging their friends in LadBible posts and gawping over road traffic accidents. The only people to blame about the state of our press is the monolithic public at large. Bringing back good journalism would be a futile effort; that ship sailed years ago and it is never coming back to home-port.
Joe Waters – No – 62%
Picture this: you’ve paid for a ticket to go to a professional wrestling match. It’s the hottest fixture on the card, the heavyweight champion, “Piping Hot” Steve Austin is defending the belt against the challenger, Dwayne “The Jock” Johnson. It’s expected to be a fiery but clean affair, with no underhanded tactics. To everyone’s shock, desperation for the title sends “The Jock” into a murderous fury and he callously beats “Piping Hot” Austin to death. A gasp passes through the audience, some are shaking their heads, some are crying, some are calling for “The Jock’s” arrest. Justice must be served.
As too should justice be served for the shameful tactics the press have been known to use in pursuit of scoops. Be it paparazzi persecution which invades the privacy of so many or the horrendous phone-hacking scandal, it is clear that journos across the country appear to get away with just about anything and something needs to change. However, to try and place the blame on the consumer is a disgraceful scapegoat. If “The Jock” in my first paragraph picked up the mic and responded, “I’m innocent, because you’ve all paid money and turned up, you’re all responsible.” He’d be rightfully booed and, in typical professional wrestling style, would likely have to fight for his freedom at the next Pay-Per-View.
It is equally illogical that gossip publications, after their conduct has caused wanton misery once again, to place the blame on their readers. The argument, “you buy our papers, so you are responsible for how we bring you the news” is illogical in that it assumes that consumers have direct control of the methods used to bring news to the front pages. Well, no, Mr News of the World, consumers didn’t force your journos to hack into dead girls’ phones to get a glimpse into their private life.
When we buy papers and click on web articles, we expect news, we also expect that said news stands up to certain ethical standards. We expect, and have a right to expect, that what the press prints is true, was not obtained dishonestly, and wasn’t produced or published in a way that causes unnecessary harm. By unnecessary harm, in this context, I mean the harm done to the subjects of stories that is beyond what they deserve. I’m not saying it’s unethical to say, for example, cause harm to MPs who fiddle their expenses by exposing them as so they get their just desserts, but what I am saying is it is unethical to then spend the next six weeks straight camped outside their house, taking pictures of their home, their family, their children, and so on.
This is exactly what happened in the recent case of Ms Flack. Ms Flack was charged with assault after allegedly launching a lamp at her boyfriend in her London home. She was due her day in court where she could have her say and be judged by a jury of her peers. But instead, the British tabloid news media took it upon themselves to pass their own judgement, labelling her in articles with descriptions such as “Paranoid” (Daily Mail) and “Caroline Whack” (The Sun). Not to let the story go quietly, and let two individuals have a reasonable amount of privacy, the press then went on to interrogate her personal life, finding everything from Instagram posts of Flack declaring her love for her boyfriend and labelling it as “shocking” to finding witnesses, likely salivating at the idea of getting published in some kind of rag, who would describe the scene of the night like a “terrorist incident”, no ridiculous hyperbole there whatsoever.
The sad thing is the British public are all too familiar with the questionable (to put it lightly!) antics of the press. As a Liverpool FC fan, I’m very aware of the desperacy of the rags you can buy as you head into Tesco. For those of you who don’t know, four days after The 1989 Hillsborough Disaster that claimed the lives of ninety-six football fans (which an enquiry now confirmed was not only the police’s fault, but that they tried covering it up afterwards) The Sun went on to publish what they titled “The Truth” – that Liverpool fans, while being crushed to death, picked the pockets of victims, urinated on corpses, and beat up the police officers.
None of these claims were true.
Were those fans responsible for the reporting of their deaths? The Sun was sold in Liverpool before the disaster, and it’s unlikely none of the ninety-six picked a copy up during their time. Because they bought The Sun, and gave it the need for stories, does that make them responsible for the paper reporting their deaths the way it did?
No, I didn’t think so.