Monday 4 May 2020

Journalists are still missing the mood

Something extraordinary happened to me a few days ago. I had been stuck at home and writing more than usual with much the same result as always. A steady few familiar faces on Facebook and Twitter shared my articles and a few thousand people read what I wrote. But I woke up one Monday morning, which happened to be a day off, and had an idea. I had been growing ever more frustrated by the journalists I had been reading in newspapers and especially with those on Television. I thought they were missing the point and set out to write about this.

I usually write very quickly, and I don’t have much idea of what I’m going to write before I begin typing. If things go well, I hope to write just under a thousand words in about an hour. It feels like its someone else writing. I read through the piece once, trying to spot typos and spelling mistakes and then I either save it for another day or post it immediately.

On this occasion I wondered whether I should wait. It was a Monday after all, but something told me to go with it immediately. I shared the post two or three times on Twitter and in various Facebook groups. It got a few retweets, likes and shares. I saw it was doing quite well on the page that counts my viewers. Then it started doing very well. Every now and again I have an article that is read maybe ten times more than on average. It looked like this might be one of them. But suddenly the number of readers began to grow exponentially, and this carried on for days. My article was read by more than half a million people and the number of views of my site crossed the two million mark.

I think these things are partly due to chance. It’s perfectly possible on another day the article would have been read by only a few thousand. But there was something about what I wrote about journalism missing the mood of the country that struck people. Thousands of people I had never seen before contacted me and said they agreed.

In the days since I have continued to write, and everything has gone back to normal. I gained some followers which was great and very appreciated. Unless you are a nutter or a porn star you will get a follow back.

I got the usual mix of comments about the viral article I had written. I noticed early on that a fellow blogger had written an article critiquing it. Fair enough. I knew about this because he included a link and mentioned me by name. That was kind of him. But then something especially strange happened.

A few articles appeared on various mainstream media sites which argued against the substance of what I had written and featured paraphrases or quotes from my article, but I got no mention at all. Someone cribbed from my article and turned it into a graphic that was shared by Lord Sugar. There was no mention of where it had come from. Other people began copying extracts in their own tweets without mentioning me. 

If you do a Google search with the keywords “journalism” “missing” “mood” and “country” you get my article. What I discovered was some journalists were not merely missing the mood of the country; they were also lacking the skills needed to perform simple searches on Google. No doubt other journalists are diligent searchers. 

I don’t wish to be overly critical. People are busy. They are under pressure to write a story. They are perhaps peeved by what they see as an attack on their profession. I grew up on films with intrepid reporters digging around to get to the bottom of things. Perhaps that’s something they only do in old films where editors wore those strange eyeshades for reasons that remain unclear.

When I was studying, we learned things a bit differently. If I wrote a single sentence that was based on someone else’s work without attributing it and citing where it came from, I could be in trouble. It was for this reason that we were taught to use those little numbers that go at the bottom of the page and to write a long bibliography citing the books and articles we had read. We did this, because otherwise we would fail.

I have written well over four hundred articles. I don’t get paid. I make a tiny amount if people click the adverts and I get some satisfaction from a hobby I enjoy and some recognition from the familiar faces I come across online.

For the first hundred or so articles I was learning what to do. Sometimes what I wrote was too long and not written well enough, but I improved. Gradually the number of people reading increased. The only help I get is from ordinary people who happen to like what I write. They share. They retweet. I don’t have any resources. There is only me a computer and a site that costs me twenty pounds a year. If you think a bot can write these articles, you don't understand much about language or artificial intelligence. To suppose that everyone who speaks Russian is a bot is a peculiar form of prejudice. Do you suppose robots are fuelled with vodka?

It would have been great if there had been a link to my article when journalists started arguing about it. I don’t blame anyone. It’s not that big a deal. But it kind of shows that journalists still don’t get the mood of the country. They can come up with all sorts of good arguments about the role of journalism and how its job is to hold the Government to account, but not one of them is able to address why my tiny little article went viral. In all their justifying of their jobs they demonstrate how far away they are from understanding why so many thousands chose to share an article from someone as obscure as me and why it spread beyond its original source as popular works have been doing since Jack and Jill went up a hill

Journalists demonstrated their lack of understanding not least because they were not even reading the article that  had sparked these memes and paraphrases that were being so widely shared.

Journalists are invariably mediocre middle-class Arts graduates, who frequently never quite got beyond lefty student politics. They lack the skill to write novels and so they write for the news. I rarely if ever come across an original thought nor do I often come across genuine expertise about anything. Journalists are paid sometimes quite a lot to write about things they know nothing about, like epidemiology, Covid or even politics. We who read their opinions frequently know more they than do, not least because they are so detached from the issues that matter to most ordinary Brits. None of us care about U-turns, nor are we interested when you keep interrupting politicians, nor do we much care about the various plots that go on in Parliament. We care about substance and you give us superficiality. We see through your bias and we see through you.

I don’t wish to take away anyone’s livelihood, but the clever arguments which demonstrate how wrong I was to my write my article miss the reason why half a million people read it. They are therefore thick arguments. They are complacent when complacency is not useful. They lack a basic understanding of the point they are missing, which is why they are still missing it. For this reason, very soon, they will be missing their readers too.

No one elected journalists to do anything. You depend entirely on us buying newspapers or watching television just like any other form of entertainment such as football. You are playing out a very boring no score draw. You may have pompous ideas about your virtue and the noble job that you are doing, but we are beginning to leave, and you will end up playing with yourselves and doing it for free.