British newspapers: Unethical and sensationalised? Yeah, but so what

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Papers

(Pic: by Nick Clapp, of newspapers)

It’s often said newspapers have no morals, ethics or sensitivity. People complain about them being biased, sensationalised and prejudiced.

To be honest, this is largely true. And I for one am glad that’s the case.

No responsibility

 The truth is, newspapers have no genuine responsibility to be ‘fair’ and ‘objective’.

This is because they are not public service organisations. Yes, papers play a part in maintaining democracy.

But don’t forget, they are organisations designed to make profits and money first and foremost.

This is why they are full of adverts and fight so hard to get noticed amongst the competition. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating papers lying or making up stories.

 I’m just saying it’s not right or fair to expect them to be impartial.

As journalism students, we are told ‘don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.’ It’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve heard so far.

You may think what I’m saying is pretty unethical. But why is it? There’s no shame in trying to sell newspapers.

Techniques

Headline puns, big pictures and shocking headlines are the best way to do this.

Would you want to read something written in plain, boring language? No, nobody would. It may be factually correct, but it wouldn’t be interesting.

Take for example today’s Daily Express. This isn’t a paper I normally read, and I’m not advocating views in it. But as an example, think about this headline.

“Scandal as millions wait longer to see their doctor.” Now, is it really a scandal?

“People waiting longer to see doctors” would probably be more accurate. But it’s nowhere near as interesting.

The truth is, if you don’t like the way certain papers act, ignore them. You could go your whole life without ever needing to read one.

Like it or not though, the techniques used by papers to intrigue readers and keep their interest are clever and fantastic.

After all, about one in every 12 people will buy one daily. That’s pretty impressive.

So even if you don’t like them, at least show them some respect.

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Matt Baker: David Cameron’s nemesis

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BBC’s Matt Baker: David Cameron’s new nemesis

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When David Cameron appeared on BBC entertainment programme “The One Show” nobody expected him to get much of a grilling.

However, one of the presenters had other ideas. Matt Baker, of Blue Peter and Strictly Come Dancing fame, asked the question many of us wanted to.

As the show was coming to an end and the credits were about to role, Baker asked the PM “how do you sleep at night?”

At first I, as I’m sure many people did, thought he was asking Cameron how he was able to get away from it all and relax.

But, as the dust settled, it was clear that was not the case. The gasp from his co-presenter Alex Jones really gave it away.

Improvised

Baker had gone off script at the very last minute and stung Cameron with the improvised question.

The Prime Minister, probably surprised by the Paxman-esque hammer blow, stumbled through to the end.

Bite

In one of the strangest television moments I have ever seen, the cuddly primetime show had bared its teeth.

Cue lots of surprised commentators and a Youtube explosion as the video went viral. I for one am pleased by the moment though.

It was unexpected, entertaining and democratic, all in one swift movement. Well done Matt Baker.

That one question was probably worth the licence fee alone.

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Celeb gossip: Why people love it

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Japanese earthquake shows importance of rolling news

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Journalism has often been described as the first draft of history. No incident shows this fact off more than the recent disaster in Japan.

Incredible footage and images have been broadcast worldwide, showing the destructive power of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The plight faced by the people of Japan is all too apparent, as the continuous news stream has shown us all what’s happening.

When seeing this, something which will become part of history and written about years from now, it’s hard to deny the importance of reporting it.

Not only does it mean we can help by sending relief as soon as possible. It also means we can learn from it.

Scrutiny

We can scrutinise how the government deals with it. We can make sure we are all more prepared for such disasters in the future.

Many people deride the way the news is now shown 24/7. They say it causes them to sensationalise every story and resort to using reams of user generated content.

These points are, for the most part, valid. But when it comes to these, thankfully, rare events, journalists step up to the mark.

Human right

It’s an essential human right nowadays to know what is happening in the world, and journalism provides this function.

As this massive event unfolds further, the story will keep changing and evolving. We owe it those poor people in Japan affected by it to record what happens.

Only then can we know, and be compassionate. And only then can the truth be documented seamlessly for future generations.

Read more of Wordsmith:

Rupert Murdoch’s media monopoly

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Ruper Murdoch’s media monopoly: Fair or undemocratic?

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Debates have raged for a long time about how much power News Corporation’s owner Rupert Murdoch really has.

Some argue he doesn’t exert large amounts of control over the many parts of his media empire.

Then there are others who say his influence is profound. One such person, Brian MacArthur, worked under Murdoch for several years as an editor of The Times newspaper.

He said, in a recent guest lecture at the University of Central Lancashire, ‘The Sun Says’ section of The Sun is clearly “what Murdoch thinks.”

Opinion

It’s one thing to hear it from someone who has worked for the media tycoon. It’s quite another to hear it from the man himself.

In the above clip, Rupert Murdoch admits trying to “shape the agenda” of his news broadcasters.

Having said it himself, for whatever reason, it shows he’s willing to use his organisations for his own means.

This would probably shock many people. But should it?

After all, he is a businessman, first and foremost. He expects some kind of return on his investment.

As news providers (on the whole) don’t actually make lots of money, owners use them in other ways.

Of course, arguments against him using his own media monopoly to peddle personal views have validity.

Plurality

Someone who only watches Sky News or reads The Sun or The Times will get Murdoch’s own opinions shoved in their face.

However, we live in a country of media plurality, meaning it’s unlikely people will see news from just one source.

As long as the means is there to get a wide range of political views (which it is thanks to the range of newspapers and broadcasters) it means democracy functions effectively.

As bias is unavoidable (and objectivity can never be achieved), our media plurality is the next best thing.

Murdoch may control large swathes of the news industry. But as long we have access to a range of opinions across the spectrum, it doesn’t really matter.

Read more of Wordsmith:

Celebrity gossip: Why people love it

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Japan earthquake shows importance of rolling news

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