Rob J Kennedy. What
This blog is about my experiences as a university journalism student and thoughts on the media. When
It began on July 1, 2019. Where
Canberra, the capital of Australia. Why
So it might inform and help others.
Why would anyone in their right mind want to begin a journalism degree today when it looks like the news industry is falling apart? Why would someone who is almost 60 and was supposed to have their working career behind them start out on a new path?
Circumstances can lead you anywhere in life. But, there's one thing that has never changed for me over my life, and that's a love of the truth. That's not to say that I am always truthful and above reproach, far from it. However, as someone who as an inbuilt bullshit detector that is always on, becoming a journalist is something I should have done much earlier in life.
If there's one thing that life has taught me, it's that no one tells the truth all the time. Only liers say they tell the truth all the time.
And, that's OK. Every person who ever lived lied for all their lives. Most of the time, the lies are small, non-life threatening and are used for expediency. Why? Because no one believes the truth and it's the quickest way to get you out of trouble, so you and I think. Why is it that the truth almost never sounds real? Why do we think that even in the most minute of ways that telling the truth will make us out to sound and look like a lier?
Humans are unrealistic. We place all sorts of unrealistic expectation on ourselves and others. When we fail to meet these expectations, we lie. A lie is seen as the easiest and quickest solution to explaining why we didn't do what we said we were going to do or what we were asked to do.
Over the years of this journalism degree, I aim to turn my bullshit detector on myself and write without editing, except spelling, without pictures, unless absolutely necessary, and to never include links to articles supporting my view. I will not include comments from anyone. I don't want my writing swayed by others or taken in directions that I didn't start out heading towards.
Journalism has always been the best medium for telling and exposing the truth. Regardless of where it is today that fact has not changed. That's what is good about journalism and that's why I am doing this degree and writing this blog.
I hope this will be enlightening, informative and entertaining - now, onto the journey.
One of my favourite things is to listen to the news on the ABC every morning.
I choose ABC because they have the most informative and balanced news reporting in Australia. In fact, a lot of what I know about the world comes from ABC programs. Plus, no ads. I also take in as much news as possible from many other sources.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a greater range of investigative news, ideas, and programs than any other media outlet in Australia. It's the same for the BBC in the UK, but I have to say, that the BBC does it better than the ABC. They have been doing it longer, but only by 10 years. ABC began in 1932, the BBC in 1922.
Below are the sites, papers, and magazines I read every day. I subscribe to The Guardian because, for me, it has the best-written content and a greater variety of coverage and stories outside the ABC and the BBC.
The Saturday Paper
Smart News app and Feedly for journalism stories
World Literature Today
BBC Music Magazine
Learning about journalism is similar to learning about music. Both can be done, to a point, by listening and reading. There is a large variety of sources to choose from on the internet, but not much locally. Most of the interesting and informative sites on journalism are international ones.
I go twice a week to my university library to find suggested reading for the course and also at the National Library of Australia to select books related to the study of Journalism. I hope that this course will offer me the hard facts about journalism.
What I've learnt so far is that today, and maybe since journalism was invented, journalism is meant to hold up and represent values that are similar to what religion and the police force are meant to represent, or is that do?
It's suggested that Julius Cesare invented journalism when in 59 BCE he had posted in public spaces his Acta Diurna (Daily Acts). In other words, news.
Journalism didn't become a specialised and autonomous filed until the 19th century. But, professional news people existed as far back as the 17th century. The first privately published English newspaper was the Corante. Its first edition was printed in 1621.
The functions of journalism are said to be...
To act as a mirror of society
To help keep the people in power honest
To act as an agent for good
To protect, inform and promote democracy
To tell the world what is happening
To protect the public interest
These edited six points come from News as it Happens, 2nd Ed by Stephen Lamble.
This list sounds unrealistic to me. Because few people in the world operate by these rules, or morals if you like, so why should they choose to obey these rules just because they work for a newspaper? If you've read any newspaper, you will see that they don't, though several try hard.
Today, creating news without views seems impossible. Editorials I find a waste of time. How is it that an editor thinks that they have a right to tell the public what is right for them just because they edit a newspaper? Even if editorials are written, or edited by a group of skilled writers, no newspaper has the right to tell people what is the right way to think about a subject.
Once, some person came up with the idea that NEWS stood for North, East, West. South. In a way, this is a good description of what news is. Because it comes from all directions with all the usual inflections connected to this information. An editorial comes from one direction and is meant to tell you what to think. Rarely does an editorial suggest. Have a read of any editorial and you will find the word "must". Editorials tell you what you must think. They tell you what others must do.
You will notice in the six functions of journalism above that none mention you must listen to and act upon what an editor tells you. If I had a friend who told me what I must do every day, they would not be my friend for long.
Journalism is not about telling people what they must think or do. For me, journalism is informing people about what is going on in the world. It should be news not views.
James Madison Jr. was a Founding Father of the United States of America. He also served as the fourth president of the USA. Madison said, "A well-informed citizenry is necessary for a democracy."
I say that a well-informed public is the foundation of democracy.
The importance of news is measured by the public, not by journalists. After personal research among friends, I found that few cared about journalism and few trusted what journalists created. This shocked me. These same people glue themselves to the news every night in front of the TV. I wondered if it was because they wanted to be informed about what was happening in the world or they wanted to be entertained as they ate their dinner. I have not found the answer to that, but it seems it is more about entertainment than news.
Like most things in the world, people only care about a matter when it directly affects them. However, when it does affect them, the problem is out of their reach because they have let it slip by through not being concerned or informed. Then they scream at the TV, like me.
Journalism has changed so much since the internet that I am not sure what journalism is anymore. Is it hard news from an established and trusted source? Is it blogs, Twitter tweets, Facebook posts or is it simply an image on Instagram?
The need to define things like journalism, music styles and movie categories have basically gone since the year 2000. But journalist scream from the rafters that journalism is still important and necessary, even when no one can define what journalism is anymore. It seems that good journalism and bad journalism are both slopped into the same bucket today.
When someone shouts fake news when a journalist points out their mistakes, and this person is in power, people become blinkered and say, yeah, all news is fake unless the person that I follow tells me whether it is fake or not. So journalism loses.
The trust that has been built up over hundreds of years in journalism is now gone because of people shouting fake news. How did we get to be so gullible and ignorant that we let a few people decide what is right and wrong for us? But this is the case. How do we combat this?
How can journalism make its point if it has been branded untrue even before stories are written?
We have to take ownership of our education and not let anyone tell us what is right or wrong without the facts. And that's what good journalism is about. Facts are more important than views, editorials or opinions.
News people need to report only facts. There is no such thing as and there never will be a post-truth world. Truth is permanent and it cannot be altered unless you let it be. When you stop believing in yourself and start believing in others without the facts, because it's easier, you have let yourself and the world down.
Do we need journalism? If you want to be cheated of your rights, you don't need journalism. If you want views and not news, you don't need journalism. If it's alright that crime and corruption flourish underneath our society, we don't need journalism. If you want to be lied to and in the end wind up feeling like you've been robbed of your rights, dignity and your livelihood while others get rich by not paying you a fair wage, you don't need journalism.
What's happened to journalism in the past five years?
When did the idea begin that a reader should have to fact check a story
in a Newspaper? Editors and reporters are supposed to do that, not the public.
Does this mean that every article in every newspaper has to be fact-checked by
the reader to confirm if it is not fake news?
The News and Media Research Centre,
which is part of the University of Canberra produced the Digital News
Report: Australia 2019. Contained in the vast amount of
information they state, "One of the biggest divisions between news
consumers stems from differences in education and income. Consistently, those
with lower education and income consume less news, are less interested, are
less likely to pay, and are less likely to fact-check news."
I assume that their findings bare out this statement, but, I wonder how
many people in the world fact-check the news?
which checks stories mainly about the USA is another site to head to for
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Royal Melbourne
Institute of Technology (RMIT) have their Fact Check site.
The independent news website Crikey have their fact-check column. And there are others.
You can go to these sites and check on stories and, you can even ask
them to run a fact-check for you. But who checks the checkers?
How do you know that these sites are not more fake news? The truth is,
you don't. Unless you want to run your own check on the information on these
sites. But who has time to do that? Do we just have to at some point say, OK, I
believe this? But how can you trust them?
The nature of fact-checking is a tricky business. Finding actual truths
or hard facts are hard to uncover.
Whatever method you use to check the truth of a story, it is clear that
with the proliferation of fake news in the world, that you have to do something
to check on what you are reading, hearing and seeing. It's a sad fact that we
have to do this, but that is a fact. Maybe that is the only fact we can truly know. July 7, 2019.
From my research of the Canberra Times, my local paper, which began in
1926, editorial opinions starting entering their paper around the 1970s. So
editorial opinions have been with us for around 50 years. How this changed people's
views and ideas back then we can't know. But today opinions, views, and
commentary in newspapers have a major effect on the views of the people who
Opinion columns are one of the most popular parts of a newspaper today.
As I have said, I fail to understand the popularity of opinion columns, but it
is most likely that their popularity is due to the content of these opinions
reinforcing people’s views.
Regardless of whether these views are right, wrong, inaccurate or are
just outright lies pushed by editors who want to drive an issue, in my opinion,
they have no right being in a newspaper. Opinions are not news. Opinions are
cheap, facts are hard but rewarding.
I attended the 2019 Kenneth Myer Lecture on Thursday 15.08.2019 at the
National Library of Australia. The speaker was the well-known UNESCO Chair in
Journalism & Communication at the University of Queensland, author, and
journalist, Peter Greste.
He spoke about Press Freedom in Australia: And why it is in Crisis.
He also talked about the need for a 'Press Freedom Act' and making sure it
contained an appropriate mix of rights for security agencies and the press.
I managed to get to ask him a question after his speech. My question was
"With the amount of comment, opinions, and views in newspapers today, do
you feel that this has pushed governments towards eroding press freedoms?"
His answer was yes. "This has indisputably helped to erode press
freedom around the world.", Greste said.
It does not look like that media outlets are looking at or even thinking
about curbing the commentary in their newspapers. So they can probably only
expect their press freedoms to be further eroded the more vocal and one-sided
It's clear that some editorials are balanced and probably do produce
positive outcomes. It's also clear that the rubbish that is purported to be
editorials and commentary by some is doing nothing but harm and further
disrupting a disjointed world.
I hope to one day get a job in a paper where I am allowed to report on
security, political and civil matters without hindrance from our government and
its agencies. But if newspapers continue to push out so much commentary, there
might be no journalists jobs available because governments might restrict their
activities to a point where no reporting of issues is possible.
Let's hope that media outlets find a balance and work with governments
and vice versa to maintain the continued reporting of the news, which we all
know is vital for a democracy.
Today's media environment seems to be complicating matters. We know that
almost everything we touch in the digital world, that someone somewhere can see
our fingerprints on what we have accessed.
Some media groups are so worried about being spied on that they document
their investigations on computers that are not connected to the internet, or in
fact, some create their content on typewriters. Certain media outlets
tell people to only submit stories and tip-offs through snail-mail and will not
speak to informers or whistle-blowers over any sort of phone.
Are they paranoid? Not in the least. If you've seen the stories from
Australia and around the world of governments, criminal and business agencies
tracking, finding and harassing, charging and killing journalists, you'll
know they are not paranoid.
With the click of a mouse button, anyone can put anything out across the
world today. That doesn't mean that people are going to see it or can find it,
but the more outrageous it is, the better chance it has of being found.
Where does all this lead to for the consumer? In fact, is the idea of
the traditional audience/consumer for media information obsolete now?
Society is dramatically different today than it was 20 years ago. Many
traditional businesses and social models have been disrupted, broken and some
have even disappeared. Everyone is talking at everyone else, and who is to be
The way that technology has advanced and the public's consumption of media has changed, some are even
predicting that written content will disappear in the future; when that is, no
one is game enough to state.
In one of my journalism classes, the question was asked, who has a
traditional TV in their house? Everyone in the class put their hand up; there
were more than 50 students. But then, the teacher asked, who does not watch
that TV? About 30% of the students put their hands up. They were getting their
news and entertainment on their computers, tablets, and phones.
Our digital news is vastly different from what happens on TV, radio and
in print. Is digital news reliable? No, it is not. It cannot be trusted.
Someone with an axe to grind, a group with an untested view and even
traditional media outlets are pushing out fake, incorrect and unreliable news.
It's no wonder people are predicting the death of the written word and
traditional media when for the sake of getting the most hits, people are
Digital media is measured and created on how many people are clicking stories.
They are not measuring audience engagement, interaction or reactions to stories
other than where and how many times stories are shared.
But, there are groups who are fighting against all the noise of
misinformation and outright lies. It looks like that almost nothing you read or
see online can be trusted, and I'm of the opinion that today, that is the only
thing that can be trusted. Don't trust anything you read, hear or see online.
Because the chances are, someone has manipulated it to gain some benefit for
Unless you fact-check and cross-check everything I have just written, you
cannot know what I'm saying is true.
Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus C.55 – 135 AD, said, "[t]he essence of human nature, is the faculty of choice."
How do you choose your news? Are the papers your parents read the ones you read today? For me, the answer is yes. Until the internet arrived, I never thought much about where my news came from. When I got interested in the news, I just bought the paper my parents bought, The Sydney Morning Herald.
Today, we have thousands of choices to read the news from points of views that are so different it can be mind-boggling to sort out who is telling the truth.
Here is the way one person has decided to find their news. What is agreeable is true. What is disagreeable is false; hence fake news. You might guess that person is the current president of America, Donald Trump.
One can assume that what Donald Trump finds disagreeable hurts his views, and or America's views, as he sees it. And what he finds agreeable favours his views, and or American views.
If we only get our news from places that align with our pre-existing opinions, then we are likely never to find anything new in our news. That type of news just adds weight to our biases.
As a normal citizen, the favouring of that "news gathering" technique might cause you harm. Because you only get information that you already agree with and not having all the information will harm you. But as a president of a country who guides millions of people and is in charge of the most powerful nation on earth that is very dangerous. Because not everyone thinks like the president of America, and some of his thoughts may be wrong or misguided.
The radicalisation of people to whatever idea comes from people only accessing one side of the news or information. What is being taught at some universities and schools around the world is how news can be tested and verified. So a student will end up with a more balanced view of subjects. The issue with this can be there is so much opinion, views, and commentary in the news today that the real news is hard to find and difficult to process.
The principle that drives our filtering of the news is based upon our pre-existing views. If schools and universities can teach students how to process the news to find the facts of a story, I'd suggest that societies will end up with a more balanced and empathetic graduate. And not just people who have a one-world view and create policies based on that view.
As much as I criticise certain practices of journalism and media outlets, we need them.
Journalism is supposed to mirror humanity. Newspapers report on what humans and nature does. How do we know that journalists are getting it right? How can we know that they are telling the truth?
Our relationships with each other and the trust we put in our governments and the rules they make are based upon them doing the right thing. We trust our partners and friends and our governments to do the right thing. When they don't do what we expect, it lets us down, and we feel betrayed.
Newspapers and journalists have a job that sets them apart from most of us in society. They set out to tell the truth about matters. Few of us will tell the truth if it hurts or inconveniences us or our loved ones. Newspapers have a tradition of exposing and telling the truth. They also have a history of lying, covering things up and not reporting on matters if it sets them or their views in a bad light.
That's one of the major problems with newspapers. They should not have a view. But the reality is they do. Almost every newspaper today takes sides and puts forward their views. Therefore, they should not be trusted.
However, we still need them. Newspapers can't be trusted 100% of the time, neither can anyone on this earth, but they are necessary. Imagine a world without newspapers and journalists. Actually, you don't have to imagine, just look at certain countries or read George Orwell's 1984.
I hate thinking that for every story I read in a newspaper I have to fact-check it. But this is what needs to be done if you want to find out the real truth of a story. In a previous article, I suggest several methods. Should a reader have to fact-check a story?
We need journalism to be as accurate as possible. There are several groups around the world that are trying to make journalism better and more accountable. The Society of Professional Journalists is one. A few media outlets have set up training centres for journalists, like the Journalism Trainee Scheme by the BBC.
The ABC in Australia has a program that lets people know how their government works. Who Runs This Place? Which, "explores who has real clout in Australia and how power works and how it is changing."
Things like "Who runs this place?" is one of the things that journalism can do for you. For instance, in their program The Lobbyists you can hear how they discover that there are 1700 lobbyists who have security passes that give them access to our elected officials in the Australian Parliament. The fact that there are only 227 members in the senate and the house of representatives, that's a lot of lobbyists. Some lobbyists work for companies who have made donations to our political parties.
It is facts like these that we need journalism for. Good journalism helps hold our democracy accountable. Countries that do not have a free press suffer from a lack of basic human rights. Good journalism can help maintain your rights.