It’s not the BBC, it’s you

Are you interested in newsprint, the survival of print journalism and the impact of online communities on news distribution? Don’t bother with Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer this weekend, then. It’s not just Nick who comes over as clueless: the same issue features Barbara Ellen sniping on Twitter as a pointless tool of “uber-narcissists”, and a full-page feature of recipe-tweets (ah, not so pointless when you’ve got some ink to spill). But if the Observer is still reeling from the shock of the tweet, surely they’ve had time to reconcile themselves to the idea of blogging?

Oh no, not Nick. Starting with a metaphor that makes no sense and skittering on to a conclusion that has no depth, Nick’s column reads like a howl from the bowels of ignorance:

Professional journalists in the age of the internet look as doomed as blacksmiths in the age the combustion engine. Local newspapers are disappearing. National newspapers and commercial TV stations are seeing the web take their advertisers.

Even the gloomiest forecasters expect there will still be a few reporters around in 2025, but as with blacksmiths, we will be curiosities.

Leaving aside Nick’s self-identification as a reporter (you’re a columnist, Nick: say it with me, own what you are), let’s sharpen our teeth on that opening analogy. Journalist = blacksmith, internet = internal combustion engine. Blacksmiths made a product that was essential for the use of horse-drawn transport but unnecessary with motorised vehicles; journalists make a product which can be transmitted through newspapers and broadcasting, and which can also be transmitted via the internet. So a more appropriate version of Nick’s figure of speech would be something like, “Professional journalists in the age of the internet look as doomed as grain merchants in the age the combustion engine.” Sure, it lacks that alarmist edge, but at least it’s tending to accuracy.

Nick’s really worried, though (this week, anyway). Here’s why:

The best reason for wanting my colleagues to survive is that serious reporters and broadcasters offer a guarantee that what they say is true. If they stray, their editors impose journalistic standards and insist on objectivity. They may not have the best or fullest story or the most vivid account, but readers should be able to assume their work is reliable, while a blogger’s commitment to objectivity can never be assumed.

I know. Here’s Nick Cohen, scribbling away for the newspaper that sold the MMR and WMD scares with the ferocity of a blind bear with a bee up its arse, telling everyone else about the very serious journalistic standards that stop him and every other hack from telling outright untruths. Astonishing. It’s possible that it’s not the internet so much as the incompetance that’s been herding consumers away from newspapers. But Nick, with another badly thought-out non-story to trample through, is too busy kicking the BBC to take a self-reflexive look at the journalistic failings of his own medium.

9 thoughts on “It’s not the BBC, it’s you

  1. Excellent work once more. One tiny thing though – Blacksmiths do still exist. In fact up to the closure of British Coal (NCB as it was by then) there were hundreds of them. I should know I’ve been shovelling compo money out to them for years. His analogy carries water like big bucket. Made of wrought iron. Completely sealed. Or with a hole in it? Damn you Cohen and your stupid useless analogy bollocks. I’m off to see if pope nazi the first has shat in the woods.

  2. I feel like I should be able to make a very telling point out of an allegedly left-wing commentator mangling the history of the British steel industry to wrangle a self-serving metaphor, but I can’t quite pull it all together without calling Nick a massive hypocrite. Oh well.

  3. Given the media’s reporting of health issues alone (the best example of which is probably MMR), I am staggered that Nick Cohen can claim that journalists’ commitment to objectivity can be assumed. Anyone who remembers the uncritical promotion of Dore in the mainstream media would probably be gobsmacked by Cohen’s assertions too – the media coverage was shameful, while bloggers: explained the methodological flaws; broke the news internationally of Dore going bust; and offered practical rights advice to ex-employees and parents.

    I think that bloggers who allow free comment (described by one commentator as “auto-peer review”) may even be more likely to produce accurate pieces than journalists who work for certain newspapers which only allow favourable comments on their website, and fail to publish corrections and clarifications to their distorted, inaccurate, or misleading articles with due prominence.

  4. As there are still a fair few professional blacksmiths around these days, and since many of them now specialise in commissioned pieces then perhaps the analogy means there will be fewer but better journalists??

    As for bloggers, well when I blog I make no claim to objectivity. Some do though. The same applies to professional journals where some articles are scrutinised and peer reviewed and some are, well, just propaganda.

    BTW, I sensed an anti miners dig in SolidChris’s “shovelling compo” phrase, I hope I am wrong.

  5. Just as an aside, the case of MMR is immensely telling in Cohen’s case, because he claims that he was always sceptical but in a Standard column written several years ago he admitted that he was actually taken in. The recent column which you took apart so expertly looks even worse with that in mind – Cohen was explicitly lying. So much for trust in journalists.

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