There’s probably a fair comparison to be made between modern news networks and Iago, Shakespeare’s Machiavellian bad guy in Othello. Both cheat and lie as a means of achieving profit, yet maintain a widespread reputation for reliability within their respective worlds. Their advantage is others’ misfortune. When Iago insidiously tells us “I am not what I am”, he echoes the voice of the news media’s subconscious.
Recently, I interned at a major mainstream news outlet whose name—for my own sake—I won’t mention. Far more than provide practical experience, my internship revealed to me that there is something deeply, inherently wrong with modern news media.
First and foremost, it’s drenched in old school sexism. Females are expected to apply up to half an hour’s worth of make- up before appearing on camera, whilst male interns are required to do nothing to their appearance than perhaps running a comb through their hair or maybe a dab of foundation on their cheeks. When girls ask to not wear make-up, they’re rejected with an air of candid incredulity. An expectation to conform to the stereotype of the buxom, Barbie-like newsgirl persists, with an emphasis on how one looks rather than how one writes or reads.
Sexism in the media is by no means a recent phenomenon. To see this in practice we need look no further than the stomach-churning, temperature-burning, Tony-Abbott-in-his-bed-turning news that (shock, horror) Hillary Clinton sometimes wears pants, a fact that many newspapers, including The Guardian and The Washington Post, deem to be headline- worthy.
So the fact such attitudes proliferate the internal as well as the external workings of news media shouldn’t be a surprise.
But it is and it was, and it has no place in an institution that should theoretically represent the collective voice of the people.
The way in which information is acquired raises some similarly unsettling issues. Far from gathering original material to be sculpted into a compelling yarn, news media often does what your mum did in your Year 5 Ancient Egypt assignment: control-C some information from the web, change a couple of words, and garnish it with a few pictures and a catchy title.
Of course, much of the news consists of simple fact-telling, and thus cannot differ too much between sources without compromising the objective truth of the matter. Indeed, an internship revealed to me that mainstream news networks often share resources to ensure they deliver accurate news as quickly as possible to their audiences.
But where do we draw the line? In an age where careers in commercial journalism are restricted largely due to online media and almost limitless self-publishing avenues, we could argue that a more original and
insightful standard of writing should be required of so-called professionals. And we’d be right.
But sadly, this is not the case. Instead, we are too often fed information by people paid to essentially copy the works of others. This extends beyond written stories, encompassing photos and videos. Not only is this dishonest, but simply promotes poor quality journalism.
If this ‘copy and paste’ mentality persists, then perhaps the potential collapse of mainstream news, due to social media and online self-publishing, is somewhat deserved.
So what did an internship teach me? Basic film and camera semiotics. How to write better in a news format. How the editing process is undertaken. How to copy other people’s work. How to casually discriminate against the opposite gender.
As Shakespeare, the world’s most famous plagiarist, once said: “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”