Time’s person of the year this year is journalists – a useful sign of the monstrous self-regard of the American press. Yes, some journalists have indeed been killed this year in the performance of their jobs. So have some firemen, some bakers and some prostitutes. It’s also true that some journalists have been jailed simply for doing their jobs – this is true of many other workers too. The reason we’ve got these journalists declared as people of the year is that the people doing the declaring are journalists. We’re thus watching more than just a little bit of navel gazing, something rapidly approaching self-love and even self-abuse:
Time magazine has named four journalists and a US newspaper targeted for their work, among them the murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar, as its 2018 Person of the Year. The group, collectively referred to as “The Guardians”, also includes an arrested Philippine journalist and the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot and killed at the newspaper’s offices in June. The magazine recognises the person or group of people who most influenced the news and the world “for better or for worse” during the past year. Time says The Guardians “are representatives of a broader fight by countless others around the world”. Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal announced the news on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday, and credited the journalists “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and for speaking out”.
There’s actually nothing very special about journalism despite those American protestations to the contrary. They, we, are not members of some exalted profession, it’s a craft no more. Further, a craft that can be picked up by anyone not actively stupid in a couple of years of on the stone work experience. Which is indeed what the training system used to be before that internal to the craft decision to try and make it a profession, Master’s degrees for all. The effect of that upon quality can be seen by regarding the rise of churnalism, the reprinting of convenient press releases and the like rather than an inquisition into what is actually happening. Oh, and the quite explicit bias of the press corps itself. It’s, in the US, perhaps the most D leaning of all occupations. Republican plumbers abound, as we know, a journalist willing to give a Republican a fair hearing are rather rarer. One number for you, apparently 90% of the Wall Street Journal’s journalist types vote D. That’s not a balanced corpus.
More than this, it’s not about being the fourth estate, speaking truth to power and all that. If it were we’d have rather more examination of currently fashionable nostrums. A little more kick back against yet another report showing that climate change will boil Flipper in the remains of the last ice floe in only three months’ time! It also never has been – journalism is filling in the white spaces between the advertisements. We don’t even lead peoples’ opinions, we reinforce them. People select the story tellers who pamper their own preconceptions of the world around them.
Time picking journalists as their person of the year comes from two sources. Firstly, that monstrous self-regard in the occupation itself, the continual reinforcing of the idea that we’re anything more than scribblers for hire. The second being that journalists pick journalists, for there’s such a frisson of knowing that you’re a part of such a noble occupation, isn’t there? An association, however tenuous, between the bloke doing the TV listings and the noble crusade.