Where will the media go next?

I first encountered the media when I was twelve. At that age, I couldn’t really place people that well.

Now, I’m older, I’ll have a go.

Two print journalists decided to write particularly personal attacks: both were sacked a few years later and appear to not have worked on a newspaper since then.

Not to do with me: just the whim of their Editor and the redundancy rounds.

I wasn’t jumping for joy, no urge to name them: It’s 4.47am and I’d rather be sleeping.

But: I observe that life goes on, and the ogres of my childhood are diminished.

Hearing the recollections of a mainstream journalist, there is often an anecdote about how at the start of their career, they were the “cool kids”, drinking loads and having wild escapades.

There seems to be no follow-up.

What happened next?

The old school view: only people who were determined to be Media People or Career Commentators had a right to comment, and a voice, and the chance to express themselves.

They commented on everyone else. Everyone had to see life through their filters.

But there has always been alternative opinion, even if there wasn’t the same distribution network.

And the Internet changed everything.

Bloggers have experienced a backlash. NightJack wrote anonymously on police procedure and donated his winnings from the Orwell Prize to charity.

A Times journalist hacked his e-mail account to “out” him.

The Times journalist’s motivation seemed murky and confused: pure malice.

I suspect the malice was really sour grapes: shame at working for Murdoch.

(the Times journalist himself: the son of a former Mail and Sky reporter. Perhaps he inherited some frustration, a Paul Dacre in the making).

Rupert Murdoch himself wrote a fairly aggressive letter to Google.

Speaking as media consumer rather than media subject. I watch football on Sky, there isn’t the choice not to. I sometimes find a newspaper article interesting or useful, there was a good one on Mondrian in the Times.

The rest?

It seems to be filler, and somewhat out-of-touch debates. But when there are other options available, I don’t want filler.

A copy of a newspaper gives day old news and I’d rather get (relatively) instant information from the BBC. Which I’m sure is biased in its own way, but is free to access.

I like local news as that’s related to where I live  (jumble sales and sports and all that) but someone in London deciding what’s “relevant” doesn’t do the trick.

And: words do not comprise the whole world. Real life is the thing.

That whole I am a journalist, I tell you how it is. Look at my cool interesting life and despair and long for it, ye readers attitude?

It’s feeling rather dated.

The most significant decline in newspaper sales: the Sunday newspapers. Traditionally the place to access the glossy Lifestyle supplements.

When I was a somewhat isolated child, I loved reading, coveted what I thought was a glimpse into adult life, an exciting life, another life.

I worked through stacks of novels, would devour Lifestyle magazines. I lost myself in words.

But my twenties passed, and now I don’t feel the need to lose myself.

I haven’t ticked many boxes in the list of what society sees as externally successful. Ongoing issues with my family and the media have meant I’ve had to live very nomadically.

Still: I’ve travelled, see art and culture, do my own creative writing, play sports. The most exciting thing is what is in front of my eyes.

Putting energy and attention into those I know in real life is a millon times more rewarding than cooing over details of those I’ve never met.

Isn’t that kind of the goal, to feel like the lead person in your own life?

Aspirational articles don’t work when the audience can access the Lifestyle sooner than the newspaper can sell the idea of it to them. Not a unique experience for people my age.

And women. More women are educated, working out of the home, having their own social and cultural interests. Not living through others whilst feeling peripheral themselves.

So, my experience: I am no longer a consumer of newspapers not because of my own issues with them (love Mumsnet and couple of uncomplimentary things on me there) but I feel unconnected to the content.

This echoes the views of people younger than me.  Or lack of view, really.

They don’t dislike the mainstream media: they find it irrelevant.

With selling access to real life not very valuable, (artificial) drama and conflict and intimacy seems to be the only unique selling point of the mainstream media.

Online comments sections are popular. It seems fashionable to turn the journalist into the brunt of the story, taking mockery where once the subject was.

And the subjects, of course, becoming more and more reluctant to be interviewed.

Despite being aware they may be labelled as “reclusive” or “moody”, sportspeople, artists, musicians, are refusing to speak to the Press.

(and of course, now, they can have their own Twitter or blog).

When I was 18 I was in contact with a broadsheet journalist. She had e-mailed to ask if she could interview me.

I said I’d like to write something myself.

My childhood was a bizarre video game. My line of thought: How can I regain my voice? How can I get some control of this situation and prevent further harassment?

I didn’t want to put energy into running a personal PR program for myself. My experiences had showed me there wasn’t an opt-out button.

I had to participate or be victimised. I wanted to write on the issues I had with the media.

The journalist sent me a list of specific things my Editor has said you will be allowed to write on which are relevant.

It was like the article was already written.

Gossip about family, issues with Oxford, titillating tales of a broken young ethnic woman, etc, etc.

Her idea of an “interview” was so she could get a photo. Maybe a line about what I was wearing. Or whether my voice was loud or quiet.

Which would “prove” it was all true.

(Guardian, by the way)

(might have arranged to meet then stood her up)

 

Journalists go in with the story written.

Their only “job” on “human interest” stories is to manipulate the subject to look like they are consenting. Trying to “prove” that whatever angle they’re taking is true.

On truth: I don’t know what others do.

But for myself: in just about every “speaking to our man, Sufiah says” style interview out there, I gave a pack of lies.

I had been manipulated into being there, so I owed the camera or the notebook or the audience nothing.

I would do exactly the same again.

Hardly the intimacy or AMAZING TRUE STORY IN HER OWN WORDS being sold to the readers and viewers, really.

People lacking tact or personal boundaries have a skewed image of life: perhaps they like it.

Others will tell them lies just to get away from them, because they’re scared of what they might do.

Torture doesn’t produce accurate information: stories obtained through blackmail are distorted.

And lots of people are “getting” this now and can’t be bothered to participate in or pay for this charade.

Several people I met in real life commented – What the hell went on with you and the media? You and your life story aren’t actually that interesting, you know.

I couldn’t agree more.

Others have been to Oxford young: I like the way I think, but that’s not really NEWS. Love my body but objectively, not really got the most compelling of mugshots.

The only reason I was a popular Press subject for a time was my mentally ill father was the only one willing to give them access to his family and children.

The Times and the Mail would regularly send a photographer round to take a (slightly awkward) photo of me to fill up part of a page.

They wanted to keep the non-story going by building a bond of interest between the readers and me.

What that showed: how desperate the media was for anything, regardless of how odd or irrelevant or dull it was.

And then they expected the public to pay for the privilege of accessing it.

I felt angry and powerless for a time. I realise now the media was only capable of creating small, hollow, victories.

Even caring about “what the readership thinks” seems well behind me.

In my teens, it was not unusual to have someone quote something back at me.

It says here…

I would go into someones’ house, see an article on me on the coffee table, as if they thought I’d be interested in talking about it.

It says here…

At the time it stung, especially given how the Press has treated me.

Looking back, those interactions were a product of the weird circumstances in which I lived.

I had little in common with those I was spending time with, certainly wouldn’t choose to spend time with them now, and this would probably be reciprocated.

Deep down, we were simply going through the social motions.

It was a temporary predicament. As I become more myself, I find people I’m close to aren’t like that. About me, or anyone, really.

My generation has internet dated, uses Facebook and Tinder.

Despite the best efforts of the Press to create alternative identities for people, to shame and control them, we know there is big, big difference between what Google says about someone and what they’re actually like in person.

Adults with fulfilled lives authentically connect through time they choose to spend with others.

Shared goals and experiences are the thing. Not abstract images, selected quotes and opinions.

The Press are currently battling to keep their social dominance in the UK. I haven’t yet got my head around the media regulation debate.

But it is important to remember, I think, there are pressures beyond those calling for better regulation and conduct.

After all the book-spiking, the phone hacking, the attempts to “prove” they work for charity, for the police, for soldiers, for The Children?

Claiming they are essential to free speech and we will become a totalitarian state if they are challenged?

Commercially, both print newspapers and big media corporations may be unsustainable.

Not a value judgement, an observation.

Murdoch uses the phrase “Content Creators”, claims he provides “High Quality Content of Enduring Value” . His son says he is in the “Business of Ideas”.

“Content”. “Ideas”. That’s what he wants to sell.

I really don’t think it’s possible to provide one collection of “Content” which appeals to everyone.

The circulation of newspapers and magazines has been falling for some time. And even though the Press has been fairly dominant over UK society for some time, this trend hasn’t been reversed.

A limited range of viewpoints isn’t something people want to pay for, when there are actual experts who will give the information for free (and quicker).

All things come to the same end.

In a dying industry, my impression has been some members of the Press seem to be struggling with their identity.

To add to this, a forced downsizing may be inevitable. Will it be a downsizing with dignity?

by Sufiah Yusof

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