A good year for journalists

It has been a good year for journalists. I have never known better.

There has been an endless march of, upsets, twists, turns, worries, cheers, jeers, doom, gloom and unadulterated surprised joy.

Half the world is sunk into a slough of despond deeper than the Marianas Trench and the other half is waving their anti-globalist flags from the top of Everest.

The Western world is the most divided it has been since World War Two.  Divided within countries and divided between countries.

The authoritarian East is a different story. They are  watching the democratic West self-destruct  and going about their business and rattling their sabres to let the rest of the world know that they are prepared to move into the yawning  political vacuum.

Russia is well-placed to pick up the pieces from America’s failed Middle East policy. The victory in Aleppo has established the military supremacy of Vladimir Putin’s buddy Bashar Al-Assad—the dictator everyone loves to hate.  They hate him almost as much as they do Russia and Syria’s other regional ally—theocratic Iran. 

But Putin is not trying to win a popularity contest. He wants power and is prepared to go to any length—including manipulating US presidential elections—to obtain it.

China’s President Xi Jinping is no model of restraint. His growing military bases in the South China Sea are a testament to that.

Another fascinating Eastern potentate is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is busily burning the bridge that has been the traditional Turkish role between East and West.

The Brexit campaign started the ball rolling and introduced the word-post-truth into the political lexicon.  The word became so popular that the Oxford English Dictionary named it word of the year. Politicians have never been known for their veracity, but they outdid themselves in 2016  as the Brexiteers discovered that if you shout loud enough and long enough—no matter how outrageous the lie—you will be believed if it is a lie that the neglected voters want to believe.

Of course, the Brexiteers did not act alone. They had a significant boost from  he opposing Remain campaign. To start with, there was the decision of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to put party before country and call the referendum in the first place. Then there was the lacklustre performance of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn which has left a continuing question mark hanging over his actual position on the Brexit issue.

Surreal is another good word describe it. And, funnily enough, that is the word of the year for the American dictionary publishers Merriam-Webster. That and post-truth are both excellent descriptions of the culmination of the political year: The election of billionaire property developer Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.

His campaign was one long xenophobic, misogynistic , narcissistic rant. It included  the controversy over Obama’s birth certificate; an attack on menstruating journalists; locker room banter; an attack on the parents of a American  war hero; a proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, the branding of Mexican immigrants  as rapists and finally, he exposed himself as friendless by declaring : “I am the smartest man I know.”

But half of the American voters—actually less than half—believed him, because like their British cousins they feel disenfranchised by years of political neglect, and the lies were the ones they wanted  to believe.

As has been the case for centuries, the Anglo-Saxons are leading the world.  Gaps between pro and anti-Europeans, pro and anti-immigration, pro and anti-globalisation are breaking out in France, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Italy—all across what used to be called  the Western Alliance.

It has been a good year for me—I am a journalist– and with the world still terribly divided 2017 looks even better.  For the rest of you, well….

So thank you Presidents/Erdogan, Assad,Putin and Xi for providing myself and my colleagues with so many interesting stories over the past 12 months.  This past year we have—quite literally been spoilt for choice.

But thank you also to all those wonderfully useless  Western leaders who have done their bit to push up flagging newspaper circulations, and inflate television and radio audiences.

The year has been replete with memorable quotes. My favourite was the one uttered by Brexiteering former British Justice Minister Michael Gove. “Experts?” He spluttered at the height of the referendum debate. “The British public are sick of experts. “ I have often since wondered where Mr Gove’s doctor received his medical training.

* Tom Arms has been a foreign affairs writer for the past 50 years, is a member of Wandsworth Liberal Democrats and is a regular contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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18 Comments

  • It has been a newsworthy year, for sure.
    But apart from opening yourself to accusations of doing well out of others’ misery…
    It has been a bad one for journalists.
    The big stories haven’t pushed up flagging circulations, which continue to be in free fall, as Google and Facebook take over as ‘news’ sources for many and everyone wants their news for free.
    It hasn’t been a good year for the 113 journalists/media staff killed around the world (IFJ website) to date this year.
    It hasn’t been a good year for the journalists in the UK whose jobs have been axed. nuj.org.uk/news/roll-call-of-newspaper-closures-and-job-losses/

  • May you live in interesting times. (Its an English expression by the way not an ancient Chinese curse)
    Anyway A very Merry Christmas and prosperous Year of the Rooster to you all.

  • Tony Greaves 24th Dec '16 - 7:45pm

    Depends which journalists. Local papers hardly have any left which is very bad for local democracy since in most places they no longer cover local Council meetings or anything else. Most “stories” are just hand-outs from charities, councils, political parties, schools etc. plus stuff nicked from Facebook. Most journalists are now just subbers (if they bother) and layout merchants. Plus free columns from the MP and other local notables.

    It’s all very bad news.

  • Is it not the case that journalists routinely poll as even less trusted than politicians? If you want to thank someone for the current situation…thank yourself and those like you, alternatively step up and take a little more care and responsibility.
    More accuracy and honesty, less pomposity, verbosity and self aggrandisement would be much appreciated.

  • I too am a journalist and I am ashamed of the way my profession takes little responsibility for the world it increasingly manipulates.

  • Dr. John David Leaver 25th Dec '16 - 4:13pm

    Some of the comments on here remind me why solipsism is such a modern epidemic. At the risk of appearing to believe people more stupid than they actually are, let me try to state some of Mr. Arms’ unspoken assumptions:

    (1). Interesting times are actually very bad for a lot of ordinary people. The luxury of comment often requires for a journalist a degree of safety from some of the terrors they must describe. Illiberalism and bigotry are not being celebrated by Mr. Arms for selfish journalistic reasons. Instead, he maintains a tradition of commenting on things without tiresomely bemoaning them. He doesn’t approve of political developments in 2016, except to the extent that they offer a spur to all of us to try to better things next year.

    (2). Journalism isn’t defined by its medium. Many traditional journalistic outlets are being challenged by ‘new media’ and ‘social media’. Mr. Arms illustrates, though, that an attempt to find differing perspectives and to explain without overt partisanship (to engage a reader’s mind not emotions) is still a laudable journalistic goal.

    (3). Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose (pardon, if you wish, correct my French): none of us have a perfect grasp on anything, still less ‘the truth’. Not attempting to grasp what we think true, allows in illiberal motives. We keep them down in our own thought, through a readiness to stand corrected.

    (4) Accepting the possibility of error is a way forward once we improve on what we formerly believed. The best of bigots are usually motivated by self-interest, for the worse of them see my new President.

    (5). Why be ashamed because journalists cannot control the terrible things they witness? They are brave for reporting what in a better world would not happen. To start to fix a problem, we need to know about it first. We have a political capacity to organize for better things, no guarantee of success. To expect success automatically is to indulge in what Adam Curtis calls ‘Oh Dearism’ — a pernicious solipsism. We can always do better.

  • Richard Fagence 25th Dec '16 - 10:08pm

    It’s good to hear the views of a journalist on the past year but, for the sake of linguistic correctness, “So thank you …. for providing myself and my colleagues”, should actually read ” me and my colleagues”. Unless, of course, you are actually talking to yourself, which would be worrying.

  • I agree with Tony about local newspapers. When I was first a Councillor in the 1980s the local evening paper had a full time Local Govt. correspondent and a Political Editor. In my last spell (2005-13) the same paper mainly reproduced Council press releases, and PR puff from locals companies, the chamber of commerce etc.

    Its a vicious circle. less local news leading to reduced sales leading to staff cutbacks, meaning even less news, further reductions in sales etc. etc. In the meantime the advertising revenue (though also much reduced) is enough to keep papers afloat as a ‘cash cow’ for the proprietors. Into the void comes internet blogs with a mixture of fake news, biased opinions, and re-posts of people shouting at each other on Twitter!

  • While I firmly believe that most local and regional newspapers have more integrity than most nationals, one of the saddest developments, in addition to those noted by Steve and Tony, is the withering of the sub-editing profession. Many local newspapers are now sub-edited somewhere in South Wales where the basic tool seems to be the electronic equivalent of a tape measure.

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Dec '16 - 7:24pm

    Yes, a brilliant year,

    The Independent can now only be accessed online, and the Guardian is in financial straits. So a good year for journalism.

  • If this is a good year for you, then I hope you have a horrible year next year. It might be better for the rest of us. That is all.

  • Jayne
    Not too dire I hope, I am looking forward to reading the Manchester Guardian Weekly next year and beyond.
    A very Happy New Year to you all.

  • @Jayne Mansfield – sadly I’m with you on this. Until enough people realise that quality journalism is worth paying for, I can’t see the situation improving.

    I take the Independent via the app on a tablet now, and badly miss working through the print editions at the weekend. I hope this new business model works for them.

  • Duncan Roads 2nd Jan '17 - 9:43pm

    Don’t you guys watch the numbers fall every week with ratings, readership etc? I see endless self-analysis by media and journalists, on what the ‘problem’ is. None seem to have noticed that – every day, less people watch the free TV news; Every day less people buy newspapers and magazines; every day, people switch off the radio news. Less people watching and listening each day, while the background population still grows in number. Blinded by their arrogance, journalists are totally OUT OF TOUCH with reality. The public have completely lost trust in the media. That situation is not going to change, it is going to get worse. The crisis for mainstream media organisations has not yet even BEGUN to bite.

  • Duncan Roads> Blinded by their arrogance, journalists are totally OUT OF TOUCH with reality.

    How many journalists do you know personally, I wonder?
    I refer you to my initial comment on this thread, and the newspaper job losses link I quoted. Job cuts announced somewhere every week, papers closing, morale plummeting. Reality is understaffed newsrooms, huge workloads and repeated rounds of redundancies. So yeah, I think journalists might just have noticed the situation.
    But if you’re one of those people who imagine it doesn’t matter that institutions are no longer held properly to account, or that some bloke with a blog shared by someone else on Twitter is a trustworthy news source, then feel free to carry on with your imaginary view that no one but you has noticed.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Jan '17 - 11:39pm

    Duncan Roads, I hope there are still journalists out there who write ‘fewer people’ and would wince as I do at your wrong and persistent use of ‘less’; further, I hope they may manage to address people AS people or folk, and don’t use the horrible ‘you guys’ Americanism. Besides which, you are talking nonsense. ‘Blinded by their arrogance, journalists are totally OUT OF TOUCH with reality’ indeed. I wouldn’t like to label an entire profession, much less libel them, but I do know I can read well-informed, thoughtful, well-written and enlightening comment pieces in some of the serious broadsheets every week. And, ‘The public have completely lost trust in the media.’ Oh yes? Why then do pernicious headlines and stories in the Daily Mail and the Sun have such an unfortunate effect on credulous people? Who are you to make such statements? For the record, I myself began my writing and editing career on local newspapers, and I do share colleagues’ regret over their decline.

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