Sneering at ‘citizen journalists’ lays bare the media’s contempt for its audience

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Chief Sports Columnist Richard Hinds this morning got himself into a flap of defensive high dudgeon over his paper’s handling of the Liesel Jones ‘fitness’ ‘story’. Here are some examples:

Richard HindsRichard Hinds @rdhinds
Jones appearance WAS noted by plenty. A reaction from coach was sought and published. Dane Swan, Greg Inglis. Same thing.#mediacheersquad
Emma QuayleEmma Quayle @emmasq
@rdhinds the querying/reporting of her fitness is one thing, but we didn’t publish full photo galleries of Dane Swan fat photos.
Richard HindsRichard Hinds ‏@rdhinds
@emmasq Emma, it was a legit story. If you were here, you would know that. Don’t fall for the BS from the citizen “journalists”.
Greg JerichoGreg Jericho @GrogsGamut
@rdhinds oh Richard. Stop with your lame “it’s all an attack on journalists” by “citizen journalists” The people complaining were readers
Richard HindsRichard Hinds @rdhinds
@GrogsGamut Won’t stop until people who see nothing and talk to no one don’t keep telling those of who do what happened.
9:06 AM – 30 Jul 12 via Twitter for iPhone · Details

Richard HindsRichard Hinds ‏@rdhinds
@emmasq The photos were an accurate reflection, not trick photography. As you would know if you were here.
9:08 AM – 30 Jul 12 via Twitter for iPhone · Details

In other words, “citizen journalists” don’t know what they’re talking about, because Hinds was there and he saw how ‘unfit’ Liesel Jones was looking and he spoke to people who noted this ‘unfitness’.

OK Richard. How many people did you speak to? Were they athletes? Coaches? Officials? Members of the public? Why didn’t you publish any of their names? Why was your paper’s entire coverage of this issue cloaked in weasel words like “speculation” and “suggestions”?

Hinds wants us to believe last week London was  chock-full of people going around talking about how unfit Liesel Jones looked at training, but not one of them would put his or her name to a quote.

Here’s an alternative hypothesis. All the people by whom Jones’s fitness “was noted” were bored journalists looking for story before the Olympics action started. In fact, the Herald‘s Greg Baum pretty much admitted this last week.

The other point is that this is the lull before the Olympic storm, a well recognised time of mischief. Nearly everyone is here, but no one has anything to do yet. For all these idle hands – athletes’ and media’s – the devil has plans. Because nothing yet is really a story, everything is.

As far as journos are concerned, outspoken readers are all just pajamahadeen. Photo: Crissy Watkins

Here’s the thing, Richard. Whether or not Liesel Jones looked a bit tubby is beside the point. The primary question was not ‘Were these photos real or fake?’ but ‘Was this a worthy story?’

From your childish, defensive attitude, you appear incapable of grappling with or even  comprehending this issue.

Instead, you lash out at know-nothing, armchair “citizen journalists” who don’t know what they’re talking about because they weren’t there and they didn’t go to journalism school and they don’t work for an officially sanctioned media outlet that makes money (or doesn’t, in the Herald‘s case).

This attitude pervades the diminishing number of people who still have jobs in the lamestream media.

In an opinion piece today, Katharine Murphy commented:

Last week, social media shouted itself hoarse over whether a fixation on swimmer Leisel Jones’ [sic] allegedly fat body was proof of the moral bankruptcy and complete cluelessness of the careening, increasingly desperate and despicable mainstream media.

The ensuing brouhaha achieved little apart from amply validating the choice of those who would invent a conversation about ”chubby Leisel on her Olympic victory lap” to keep us all scrapping among ourselves for five minutes.

I’m not quite sure I get the logic.

10,000 Sydney Morning Herald readers: Hey journos, your fixation on swimmer Liesel Jones’s allegedly fat body proves the moral bankruptcy and complete cluelessness of the careening, increasingly desperate and despicable mainstream media.

Sydney Morning Herald journalists: Ooh, someone’s talking about us! Let’s do more stories like that!

Like most of her colleagues, Murphy makes the mistake of personifying ‘social media’ as if it’s a single body with a uniform (and of course non-mainstream) opinion. Journos do this all the time — “Twitter erupted with controversy…”

But Twitter isn’t a person. Social media isn’t a company. Facebook doesn’t have an opinion. They’re just ways of aggregating the thoughts of lots and lots of people who are your readers.

Of course, I’m aware that social media in-groups can become self-reinforcing echo chambers and circle jerks. (I’ve even written about this phenomenon.) But this doesn’t invalidate their opinions.

When thousands and thousands of your readers say you exercised poor judgment and should have handled things differently, isn’t it worth considering the possibility? Surely yes, unless you cling on to the mindset that journalists issue proclamations of The Truth from their ivory towers, which we audience members gratefully lap up.

Not to worry. Any journalists who maintain that level of contempt for their readers will soon be joining the dole queue and the ranks of the pajamahadeen. I look forward to reading their blogs.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. jimblack1944 says:

    I don’t think that Leisel Jones’ is punctuated incorrectly. So I don’t think you need the [sic]

    1. Josh says:

      In Australian English, the language the Herald is purportedly written in, a singular noun (proper or not) ending in S takes an apostrophe-S possessive, just like any other singular noun. So it’s fully [sic].

  2. Josh says:

    The Herald‘s sports reporters have a real problem with social media. Apparently it’s Twitter’s fault Emily Seebohm didn’t win gold in the 100m backstroke. These guys are becoming seriously unhinged.

  3. LowestCommonDenom says:

    Josh, I can’t help thinking that they have faithfully reported her own words there. They blamed it own her “fixation”.

    1. Josh says:

      The *cough* journalist asked her a blatantly prejudiced leading question and then faithfully reported her answer. She hasn’t had enough media training to know not to play ball.

      The utter hypocrisy of this article is that it singles out social media, and whitewashes any role the legacy media had in building up expectations (hers and ours) that she might win gold.

      Yes, it’s the SMH Olympics reporting team standing steadfast in face of a dastardly social media conspiracy against them, our Aussie athletes and all good, right-thinking people. They can fuck off.

      1. LowestCommonDenom says:

        How do you read all of that into the analysis? Is there a Q&A part that I’m missing? I’m trying to imagine the question that prompted that:

        Eg… Have you spent too much time on social media?

        There’s too much prepared personal insight into it for mine.

        1. Josh says:

          Oh come on, read the article. “Asked whether the assumption she was a shoo-in for the gold medal came arose on social media through Twitter and Facebook, Seebohm agreed it had.” That’s a leading question. And again, why ask about social media but not TV or newspaper media, unless you have an agenda?

          1. LowestCommonDenom says:

            I’m confused Josh. On the one hand you seem to want to defend the legitimacy of social media by alleging an MSM attack on it. Yet at the same time you attack the legitimacy of the journalist’s premise in asking about its impact as a legitimate force in shaping events. Both ways can’t have etc…

            I don’t see such a huge problem given the amount we know that athletes are engaging with social media and take it seriously in the public engagement.

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