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Bagehot is dead, long live Bagehot

Written By: - Date published: 1:54 pm, July 4th, 2010 - 6 comments
Categories: Media, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags:

The current incumbent of the illustrious Bagehot column* in The Economist is hanging up his pen there. However his final column number II has some reflections on the current nature of journalism and politics in Britian, which apply just as strongly here. He is discussing the topics that he could have written about, but didn’t.

That failing (among others) may in part reflect the culture of political journalism in Britain, which I’ve written about in my valedictory column. I talk about how that culture tends to cultivate provocation rather than consideration; the crowdedness of the newspaper market is one explanation for that, but so, I think, is the way people in Britain have come to think about politics—as a sort of blood sport, in which politicians are very temporarily regarded as heroes, before being excoriated as villains. I wasn’t the greatest fan of Gordon Brown as prime minister, and think that he was largely responsible for the media turning against him. Nevertheless, I think the abuse that was heaped on him sometimes transcended the bounds of journalistic decency and responsibility.

This is part of a more general, spreading culture of inflated expectations, impatience and maybe even cruelty.

I couldn’t agree more. One of my abiding memories over the last couple of years has been the braying lynch mob of journalists always looking for the next ‘big’ story like that of NZ First’s lousy book-keeping or Chris Carters flowers to his partner. The impression you get was that the journalists weren’t interested making the details of the issues clear to the public. They are merely after the headlines. Furthermore from what I’ve heard many of the relevant details were actively suppressed as getting in the way of a good salacious story.

So the press was ineffectual at any substantial level. Winston Peters was never charged with anything, and the lousy accounting practices of political parties don’t appear to have been reformed. The reason for the flowers being sent was never revealed in the media, in fact all you ever heard was barely concealed homophobic dogwhistling.

In fact one of the questions I get asked most frequently over the ministerial spending has been unanswered by the media. When was the personal money on the ministerial credit cards was paid back, and what were the procedures run by ministerial services were to separate personal spending from ‘business’ expenses. That to me as a taxpayer that was the core of the issue. However the media seem to think that such a trivial thing that they don’t appear to have reported on it as far as I’ve seen.

Like many others, I have a steadily decreasing opinion of the value of journalists and news media pandering to the lowest common denominator of blood sports. Many of them wouldn’t make particularly good bloggers because they look like they’d be totally unprepared for the type of feedback they’d get. It isn’t hard to see why sites like this with its amateur crew of authors offering opinion keeps having rising readerships.

When the news media and journalists tend to drop below our standards, why not go and read somewhere where the authors are continuously challenged by amateur commentators? It keeps the quality up as our newest author Bunji found out in a number of their posts.

* Named after Walter Bagehot a formidable essayist, who I suspect would have had fun on the political blogs.

6 comments on “Bagehot is dead, long live Bagehot ”

  1. ianmac 1

    I think that the downsizing of staff at MSM was discussed this morning Media on National Radio. “Where there had been 5 journalist in the Business Section, now there were 3 trying to cover the same amount of work.”
    MSM also argue that the population is not interested in the issues – just the juicy bits and there is not a demand for good Current Affairs.

    Therefore I applaud this site as a forum. Online here and elsewhere means that the Newspaper issues are “old” by the time the paper arrives, and for small town people like me this forum is the only way I can at least appear to participate in the dialog.

  2. Ag 2

    The problem with the MSM is the readers. Most people want tripe. Therefore tripe is served. It really is that simple.

    • Pascal's bookie 2.1

      I dunno if it’s that simple.

      I suspect that the amount of debt being serviced by news co’s is a huge part of it. Journalism costs money. The more stories journo’s are required to write, the less effort can be put into each story. The less effort, the shallower the coverage has to be.

      Reading shallow accounts of complex issues is frustrating; you don’t feel like you’ve learned anything because usually you haven’t. If you have enough background info to understand the issue, the shallow coverage won’t teach you much, if you don’t, a shallow coverage will just confuse you.

      So the available coverage of complex issues is what loses out to the tripe. People prefer quality tripe to unsatisfying amounts of bland, factory farmed, poorly cooked salmon. Kind of thing.

  3. uke 3

    “This is part of a more general, spreading culture of inflated expectations, impatience and maybe even cruelty.”

    Wow, next The Economist will start to have second thoughts about capitalism itself. Wonder if they’ll connect the dots? Oh – too bad they just retired.

  4. deemac 4

    sad you had to explain who Bagehot was – he was required reading when I studied politics at uni, surely he still should be?

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