Is the mainstream national press “dumbing down”?

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As Carl Bernstein said, today a “lack of information… and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism”1. Some people, such as Bernstein, believe that the growing popularity for celebrity news and infotainment is leading to bad journalism through ‘tabloidisation’.

The media are focussed on invading celebrity’s privacy for stories, rather than report on real news. For example, Princess Diana was always in the spotlight by journalists – “The Princess epitomized the sad state of journalism around the world, culminating with the decade’s preoccupation with celebrity journalism”2.

However, it has to be questioned as to whether the scandals of celebrities is in the public interest – “the majority of cases where privacy is breached touch on matters of sexual morality and it is that much harder to see how the public interest is served by their disclosure”3. For example, the affairs of footballers often make front page news on the tabloids. This has been the case several times for David Beckham, such as his alleged affair with Rebecca Loos. It appears tabloid journalists do not care about which stories they report, just so long as they profit – “the ceaseless quest for ever larger news audiences is intensifying to the point that journalism’s ethical responsibilities are being all but abandoned”4. There is also a lack of truth in recent tabloids due to how there is “a growing emphasis on speed and quantity at the expense of thoroughness and quality”4. The recent phone hacking scandal, by the News of the World, certainly makes it easy for one to wonder how British print journalism has turned out the way it has. However, it is important to remember that this senseless criminality was only carried out by a group of people from one organisation, and that today’s generation of young reporters should be seen as hope for a better future in the journalism industry.

On the other hand, it has been argued that “a person’s privacy may be breached if the information disclosed serves a proven public interest… such as detecting or exposing a crime [and] preventing the public from being misled”3. For example, exposing a politician’s lies to show they are not to be trusted and deforming political culture would be a justifiable end to the breach of that persons privacy (instead of base profit).

Some critics believe that “people want news you can use…news which speaks directly to their personal experiences of daily life” and therefore the infotainment slant that is now being applied to tabloids would be seen as dumbing up for modern day society, and the “standards of quality are quickly becoming out of date”4. Former editor of the Observer, Will Hutton, also takes this approach and claims that the media are “carrying more attractive writing, clearer hooks and better narrative stories than in the past”5.

After looking at both sides, and to conclude, I believe that tabloids are indeed dumbing down as journalists appear to be not taking as much effort on real news and instead taking celebrity culture to the extreme. The recent News of the World scandal shows how the public’s respect of print journalism is declining and the government has certain decisions to make as to whether new reforms and legislation need to be put into place. There is hope that our student journalists of today shall in years to come show the public that journalism is not the corrupt profession as it seems today, through guidance and teaching from experienced professionals who have worked in the journalism industry themselves.

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1 Allan, S. (2004) News Culture. Berkshire: Open University Press

2 Saltzman, J. (1998) Celebrity Journalism, the public, and Princess Diana. USA Today, January

3 Kieran, M. (1998) Media Ethics. London: Routledge

4 Berry, D. (2000) Ethics and Media Culture; Practices and Representations. Oxford: Focal Press

5 Keeble, R. (2001) Ethics for Journalists. London: Routledge

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jo-Motley/587474343 Jo Motley

    very well written and thought provoking piece