22 Mar 2017

Osborne makes the news, but it’s not new news

Tom Bermingham – Account Executive at Spreckley

Following the news that George Osborne will become the new editor of the London Evening Standard, the qualified journalist in me was appalled. Not only the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, but an acting member of parliament (amongst other job titles), is now supposed to fairly inform me of the city’s happenings as I battle my way up the Piccadilly Line.

I joined my fellow Twitterati in their disgust at the news. Gatekeepers of society? Fair, reliable and objective? Once again journalism has reached a new low.

After consideration, however, this isn’t big news at all, nor is it new.

From the dawn of time, a journalist’s role has been to act as the gatekeepers of society. To accurately and objectively inform the masses of what they need to know and to bring politicians, and organisations to account, if needs be.

However, throughout the ages; political propaganda has infiltrated our fish and chip papers. Journalism is a business. There are no guidelines (well…) and an editor’s discretion will be based on his/her own economic and political backgrounds.

Whether political media concentration is bad for free press or not is not a simple yes or no question and it shouldn’t be judged by the number of viewpoints.

After the past decade of economic crises, the media industry, in particular the newspaper industry, has desperately tried to survive. More so than ever, the media operates solely to make a profit. Due to modern technological advances, newspapers are always 24 hours behind the news, so often the actual ‘worth’ of a story is based more on saleability than news value. 140 characters needs to tell you the whole story or at least entice the audience enough so that they will click on a link that will divulge more. Journalism is its own form of entertainment – the circulation figures of the tabloids show as much. Advertising, especially in the London Evening Standard, is the most important thing to editors’ and subsequently, exactly what Mr Osborne will be judged on.

It is very British to be skeptical of outlandish views, and subtle bias and persuasion is far more effective. It may be the case that despite Osborne’s obvious power and political bias, audiences are more inclined to take his views with a pinch of salt.

It is not the bias of the editor that we need to worry about. It is actually the bias of the audience.

Audiences today are in the marvelous position of having the power to decide what constitutes news. That is because if we don’t like something, we’ll simply stop engaging. This will damage a media outlet’s audience figures and subsequently advertising rates, which will inevitably lead to publications changing what they publish.

This trend is not new. Rupert Murdoch owns many media outlets and is currently a devout Brexiteer and Conservative Party supporter. Funnily enough, so are most of his audience. Rupert Murdoch has not always been the same way. In fact, he switched sides during the 1997 general election to support Tony Blair’s New Labour, an election that was conveniently won by a landslide. This, just five years after the infamous ‘IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT’ headline following the Conservative party victory in 1992.

Murdoch saw which way the election was going, discovered what his audience wanted to read and turned the news into something that reflected it, because he knew people would buy it. If your audience wants to read about every detail of the day’s Prime Minister’s Questions, right down to the colour of Jeremy Corbyn’s socks and they’re prepared to continue paying for it, then that is NEWS. If the same audience is suddenly fascinated in what Mark from TOWIE has for brunch on a Tuesday, then that is the NEWS, neither story is bigger or more important.

Osborne’s opinion is no longer a voice. The media is approached by sceptical and cynical consumers who dictate content. Whether Osborne can juggle his numerous jobs successfully remains to be seen. Is it unethical? Arguably. Do his political connections degrade the value of journalism? Probably. In today’s world, does it really matter? No.

Subjective reporting isn’t new and it certainly isn’t NEWS, unless you want it to be.