Monday, 15 June 2009

State of Play’s call to arms to journalists must be heeded

On the face of it, Kevin Macdonald’s film State of Play is nothing more than an excellent crime thriller, with the interesting foible of being told from the viewpoint of the press rather than the police.

But for journalists, the film represents much more.

Russell Crowe’s lead turn as Cal McAffrey exposes all the problems the industry is currently facing. His newspaper, the Washington Globe, has recently been taken over by a multinational media conglomerate (MediaCorp) and is facing cutbacks.

As the paper’s editor, played gloriously by Helen Mirren, puts it early on in the film: “Our new owners have this crazy idea that we should make a profit.”

And that, in short, is the major issue facing journalists today. Gone all the glory days when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s incredible painstakingly slow investigative journalism brought about the Watergate scandal that ended the Presidential career of Richard Nixon.

Writers such as Paul Foot, one of Britain’s finest ever journalists, would not be taken on by a newspaper now as they do not produce articles quickly enough.

Newspapers are now seen as more of a business than a service. Rupert Murdoch is probably at fault for this as much as anyone, his huge Wapping production base where the Sun and the News of the World are made taking the first steps to destroying the heart of journalist’s past in Fleet Street.

Now reporters are consigned to telephones and e-mail for interviews and aren’t given the chance to fully develop all the leads on a story. Most important to newspaper bosses now is speed, rather than quality of writing and accuracy of facts.

State of Play also addresses the difficulty journalists face with protecting their sources while still attempting give both sides of the story. Cal is friends with congressman Steven Collins and while he tries to do the best by his college pal, he has to also hassle him for information for his story.

Publishing unedited press releases as news stories is common, and online opinion pieces, seen by many as soft journalism that is only a level up from the humble blogger sat in his bedroom eating Wotsits, are becoming commonplace.

Quantity rather than quality is now the mantra issued by newspaper bosses. If a reporter is not producing the goods on a daily basis it is only going to be a matter of time before they are shown the door.

Kevin Macdonald, the film’s director, has stated in interviews that he intends the film to act as a call to arms to the industry. But journalists cannot themselves do anything without changes filtering down from boardroom level. Journalism in this country is dying a slow and painful death, especially at local level.

Macdonald has opened Pandora’s Box with State of Play. The industry must act.

[Again, this was an original article for Buzz]

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