New Times,
New Thinking.

6 November 2013

Your comprehensive guide to what the media will look like in 2020

Welcome to my 2020 Journalism Bootcamp.

By Alan White

1) A brief history of modern journalism

Good morning students. We’ll begin with a run-down of journalistic basics. Once entry to this trade required a number of skills including: shorthand (100 wpm), an understanding of local government, and a working knowledge of media law. Well sod that. The only people who use pens these days are shopping in Argos, most MPs don’t give a toss how local councils work and editors stopped caring about media law ages ago.

The scales fell from our eyes seven years ago, on 4th October 2013. The daughter of the guy who used to sing Achy Breaky Heart took her clothes off, or something, and in response to the inevitable fecal explosion of cultural analysis a young writer by the name of Clive Martin began to attack the prevailing culture of opinion-based journalism.

Fleet Street, somewhat shaken by the swaggering gunslinger’s attack, quickly reached three conclusions. One, they were being attacked for triviality by a guy who writes about stupid young people taking drugs. Two, he actually had a point. And three, it didn’t matter. Because this crap got clicks.

People love media. And they love hot, dirty, media-on-media action. Absolutely love it. Seriously, I could get more hits releasing these lecture notes than I could publishing my investigation into, I dunno, Social Care cuts or something. But I wouldn’t do that. I’m a proper journalist.

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2) How the media works

Our media outlets now have a very simple hierarchy. At the bottom are

Reporters: These used to be students on work experience but of late have been replaced by simple software algorithms which take press releases and copy from the PA Feed and turn them into news stories.

Next come:

Editors: The lowest of the low moderate comments on the website.  They swim in the murky waters of racism and stupidity day after day, and will eventually go quite insane. Next up are desk editors, and no one’s really sure what they do but their most important role is previewing the front pages on Sky News.  Above them are editors, and they basically go on Newsnight every now and again in between announcing redesigns to the website.

And above them are:

Opinionators:  This is where you want to be. Now pay attention.

3) How to be an opinionator

Opinionators are the most important content providers out there. They may not get paid very much, but don’t be deceived: they are vital to the media institution’s brand. My advice here is simple:

– The writing is simple. Thing happened. Maybe another Thing happened. Two pars of opinion on what these Things show. Bosh. But…

You must have an opinion on absolutely every Thing. It matters. Share it. Tweet it. Blog it. Ice it into a fucking cake and Instagram it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s vaguely correct or informed. In fact, it’s better if it’s neither. Look at the Twitter feed of one of the Grand Dames back in the Golden Age of opinionating: Katie Hopkins. Can you imagine how tiring it was to keep thinking up the correct opinion to annoy the widest number of people possible? Commitment.

– You must never, ever engage with people in what used to be called “the real world.” The high watermark for detached pontificating was set by the undisputed pioneer in this field, Dan Hodges, when he read about a tragic murder and managed to churn out nearly 1,000 words on what it told us about working class communities without even contemplating looking into the possibility of thinking about going there and talking to people from the area. Truly a man ahead of his time. 

– It sparked more opinion, of course, because this well of tepid horseshit never runs dry. Did Russell Brand say a Thing? These days we don’t just expect to hear your thoughts on the Thing. We expect to hear your thoughts on the Thing someone said about the Thing. As long as the Thing is of the Now. Otherwise: booooring!

– The only people with whom one should ever engage are, of course, to be found on Twitter. Feel free to quote them freely, but only if they have lots of followers and might have a pop at you. Don’t pick up the phone or leave the office, unless you’re calling on a commissioning editor.

– You are left wing or right wing. There is no room for nuance or even a nod that a contrasting view to your own may hold some truth. If on the left, every single cut is cruel and misguided. If on the right, every bona fide complaint must be met by a call of hypocrisy: try to pick on people espousing left wing views despite being wealthy themselves, for example. The stuff that always works best is sweeping generalisations about the other side. Or blaming them for your own side’s cock ups. You’ll get the hang of it.

4) Engage with your readership

Depending on whether you’ve gone left or right, the Twitter responses you get will vary. But you’re dealing with a pretty uniform set of tribes. Congratulations: you’ve just booked a front-row seat at the Dick Olympics.

Middle-aged Home Counties Libertarian Fartsacks: The talisman for this lot being some recruitment consultant from Braintree who idiots back in the day thought was a heroic soldier for truth and justice because he wore a Guy Fawkes mask, made some racist jokes and thought his council tax bill was a bigger crime than Stalin’s purges. Take a look at their bio: if it’s anything like this, you’re in trouble. The good news is these bellends love showing off with a “.@” so you might pick up some followers while listening to their terrible guff. Which is the aim of the game, let’s face it.

Sanctimonious left wing keyboard warriors:  Every bong smoke-infused undergraduate essay on Ernst Bloch in 140 characters with worse grammar and a stupid avatar. Of course they’ll only go after you if you’re on the “left” but not left enough. It’s hard to know what’ll spark it off – could be any line in any piece, really – but once the pack descends you can look forward to them “holding you to account” through such subtle debating tactics as calling you a “dick”. Whatever you say, you will not win, because you have a Platform, and with Platform comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben didn’t tell Peter Parker. Block that shit like Tony Adams.

Not-quite-commentariat: Odd category – either failed cultural journalist or love the sound of their own voice just enough to tweet all day, every day without ever dipping their toe into the boiling waters of detailed comment themselves. For people so dismissive of journalists, they don’t half stalk them online a lot. Probably not worth engaging.

Racists: I am the egg man! I hate immigrants! Koo koo ka choo!

5) Bullshit

Unless you’re the son or daughter of someone in this game already, you need to sell yourself. This is pretty simple. Just remember almost all editors are fat, flatulent middle-aged white men slowly gorging themselves to death on one expensive lunch after another. Don’t worry if your schtick is the emperor’s new clothes. Everything’s the emperor’s new clothes to them. Data journalism (you can read a spreadsheet). Feminism (you’d be amazed how many views you can cram under this umbrella). Social media guru (you are under 30 and can use a computer) Technology expert (you have strong, strong opinions on IOS7). Etc. Find a niche and promote, promote, promote!

6) Sidelines

Oh by the way, this stuff doesn’t really pay. But it will make you feel important. So you need a sideline. I recommend offering weekend “masterclasses” like this one. Might be worth noting all the people teaching them and doing the jobs you’re learning about have never dreamed of attending similar courses themselves at this point. If you do go into this game and fail, I recommend a job lecturing in media studies. After all: those who can’t, teach. And once designed a code of practice for the people still doing the job: what a laugh that was.

Thanks for listening. I’d wish you luck, but I value my career too much.

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