When I posted Lesson 1 the other day, it clearly slipped the notice of one or two people that my target was readers, not writers. I have given up hoping that journalists are driven by anything other than the clamour for column inches. And that is OK by me. I wish it was otherwise, but we have to live in the real world and get on with it. Anyway, I have added to it in the Guardian.
But, just as we have to get on with it, so do journalists have to get on with having their work critiqued by readers. Jonathan Wynne-Jones got a great scoop with his Southwark story and should be demanding royalties from all the other journalists who have simply lifted his story and his words, put them under their own name and given his story legs. And that brings us to the first part of this lesson in media literacy.
As I discovered for myself last December (when I ‘banned’ Christmas – apparently), the initial story is taken as accurate, embellished in repetition and broadcast without question or critique. So, JW-J’s article on the Southwark saga has been lifted wholesale by other journalists who have asked no questions, checked no facts, done no further critique. The response, therefore, is to the story as presented and not necessarily to the facts of the case. My point is simply that readers need to be aware of what they are reading, where it has come from and at least think that some of it might be based on questionable assumptions.
We need a reality check here. JW-J says on his blog – with reference to me and one other bishop:
Then there are the bishops who have decided to put their heads in the sand by blaming it all on the media. Yawn. Why not blame the weather for the rain? Whether they are deluded or deliberately disingenuous, it is a sad indictment of their failure to face the real issues at the heart of the story. In an attempt to shift the focus, one bonkers bishop suggested that the initial story was written “out of ignorant mischief-making”. Talk about condemned by his own words. If anyone looks ignorant here, it is the bishops who have lost touch with reality and are happy to point the finger anywhere rather than at their Church. Because the truth is that the Jeffrey John saga has once again exposed the mess it’s in, but they’re just too blind or embarrassed to face it.
Yawn. I thought we were past this sort of stuff. There are worse places to put your head – such as up the backside of your own hubris. But for JW-J to confuse critique of his story with delusion about the facts underlying it is … er … disingenuous at best. Let’s be serious:
- The Church of England is not a papal autocracy, so we have open debate about serious matters and the resulting conflict is a scandal for the church and a gift for the media;
- The ways in which these debates are handled is sometimes appalling – people are too ready to jump to a microphone on the basis of reportage rather than truth;
- The Church does damage to itself without help from the media and it is the Church that has to address this.
However, that is not all. Journalists who tell our stories are not disinterested, objective observers. They are part of the story and, indeed, shape it by the way they tell it. They do not occupy neutral territory – hence the importance of the words they use (‘frontunner’, ‘favoured candidate’, ‘blocked’, etc.).
Is that really so hard to grasp?
JW-J needs better advice on choosing examples: we don’t blame the weather for the rain – but we do know that the rain is part of the weather. And it is clear that to at least some of the 3,000 people who have read my last post that the shaping of the Southwark story itself begged questions – questions JW-J avoids with a dismissive yawn.