The Journalist Code of Ethics is a set of guidelines presented by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, and comes in a handy little leaflet which actually fits in your pocket, unlike most post-sized objects these days. But more on that later.
Since when, though, did the editorial team at Fairfax decide that these guidelines, essentially rules which describe best practice for journalists, could be thrown out the window?
The code of ethics states that journalists ‘scrutinize power,but also exercise it, and should (do so) responsibly.’
But looking at the above headline, front page on the SMH website, it’s hard for me not to notice that there’s a strong whiff, a stench in fact, of some pretty stinky journalism. Read that line – ‘800 Police,only two charged’. How do you think that comes across?
To me it sounds just like a child complaining about something they think is unfair, in a pretty childish way – ‘I only got two!, or ‘I waited here all day and all I got was….’…you get what I’m saying.
The problem is, since when was it the role of the newspaper to tell you what to think? And since when did Fairfax, once the holder of the torch for journalistic standards in this country, allow itself to throw off those standards, and stoop to that level? Sure, Murdoch’s been pushing his crew to do the same for decades. But Fairfax?
It’s a style of editorial which would have made the board members from yesteryear wince in anguish; to stoop so low, cash in one’s ethics, for the sake of winning some online ratings war, only lost because the same wilingness to stoop prevented the stronger act of defending journalistic standards, and doing so in a way which kept the readers who would pay for such content.
Instead, as you can see when you visit SMH.com.au, we’ve got nothing of the sort. SMH has given in to the tabloids – it has thrown the guide out the window, stooped to the tenth-grade reading level of the Telegraph, and still managed to lose the ratings war. A lose lose result.
You may say that this was unavoidable; that with online distribution, the death of paper, there was no way a company like Fairfax could go on the way it was – holding the standard for intelligent, ethical journalism, amongst a field of papers which would happily stab your granny in the back for a line of copy and a good photo.
So why is it that countless publications across the planet have managed to do just that, while retaining not only their previous level of quality content, but also their dignity?
Look at the giants – Wired.com, the New York Times, the Guardian. I’m not a finance reporter, but they seem to be afloat. And they certainly haven’t stooped to the level of devoting a good third of their front page to stories regarding the going’s on in Ramsay St, or the B-grade (at best) docu-dramas which make up SMH.TV. Please.
The real problem is that by giving in to the temptation of lowering the standard to cater for an audience un-motivated by quality, we are all short changed; we’re all one paper further away from good, objective journalism which does the job it’s supposed to do – hold them to account.
I’m not saying that it’s up to Fairfax to save the nation from itself, but it’s shame that we live in a time when they don’t have the know-how to do so whilst making a profit. Or, at least, the balls.
Perhaps it’s an example of what happens when your company goes public – ethics out, stock-holders in, and who gives a shit?
But if that’s the case, is it just a matter of time before SMH is offering insurance?
I, for one, find the whole process excruciatingly captivating – to see the death, and rebirth, of a once great institution, capitulating before the tsunami of indifference.
Of course, there’s a crowd of brilliant journalists, and no doubt staff, at Fairfax, but which headlines like the above leading the way, how long is it before they too are a thing of the past?