Thursday, August 12, 2010

Letter to the Editor

It must be true: it’s printed on a broadsheet, recounted in somber tones from the TV, or even, shockingly enough, wearing the fancy-dress outfit of considered opinion on the internet. News. You decide what we need to read or hear about. You choose the poignant pictures to accompany the stories: an empty shoe next to the site of a bomb blast, a widow’s tear-salted cheeks. You have sources and researchers, advertisers and finances. Revenue and responsibilities. You are the Media.

You edit calamities to improve on their calamitousness. You expose the scandals without which we can’t live informed lives. You pick apart the false god of celebrity and stardom with your telephoto lenses and your secret line to indiscreet relatives. You want everyone to know about it, whatever it is, and are (reportedly) fearless and brave.

You can take statistics and spin them into stories. Edit the fumbled speeches of a hundred industry leaders and politicians, and act as their ventriloquist- force them to say whatever you choose them to say. Your intention, sometimes, is to provoke debate, to challenge the seats and pillars of authority. You level the field so that commoners may comment on the spoken and acted whims of the privileged.

And let’s be fair. You’ve made tough choices. How many sentences, and indeed, whole plot lines have ended up on the editing room floor, or remained in the first draft, never to see a final print? You’ve snipped out happiness, and focused on misery. You’ve hidden sources as flimsy as Wikipedia, and allowed stories to be regurgitated without the facts being checked. You’ve misquoted and misrepresented, and, whether by accident, or in a more sinister way, design, have allowed the public, the reader, the viewer, the listener to be inflenced by your particular take on a certain story or theme.

It’s a short step from being editors to propagandists- perhaps a paycheck from a corrupt politician (or, more likely, a salary check from a conservative advertiser), and you have a responsibility to us not to take that step. To hold to integrity, to principles. To risk alienation and perhaps prison, and to live amongst us without us fearing that our stories will become some kind of myth.

If editors could have something tattooed on their foreheads, and journalists have it stamped on their press passes, it should be “OBJECTIVITY”. Just that. The truth? We CAN handle it, despite what the politicians, business leaders, social prophets and industrial gurus think. Bring it on! Tell us the truth, but don’t compromise. We need you. Allegedly.

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