A sentiment I’ve often expressed through this medium is the unstoppable force of media in the insatiable character-vilification campaigns and the overzealous tendency towards premature talent lauding. Even as I type, from my headphones are blaring the lyrics of Two Door Cinema Club’s song ‘Bad Decisions’ – “Lately, think I’ve had enough. Of generation information, every station, but I can’t turn it off.” Obviously, as is proven through print sales that, while diminishing in the wake of the technological revolution, have guarded the industry’s survival; such an alarmingly bipolar, obliviously contradictory and self-glorifying rhetoric has sustained a profitable degree of public interest. From a British perspective, at least, these rituals appear ingrained in journalistic culture; certainly from the microcosm of sport, with football as its fundamental feature, and flagship enterprise. On the occasion of Talking Points’ 100-week anniversary of conception, then, I perceived an introspective analysis of the industry’s internal factions, glaring flaws and potentially redeeming influences as acutely apt, engaging with a society increasingly averse to traditional media forms.
Deemed by Oscar Wilde as ‘the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’, imitation pervades the industry. Originality, to offer a blasé derision of both the term and its qualities in our era, is drastically lacking in economics, politics, technological innovation and artistic expression. Perhaps an equal argument has been founded in many a distinct preceding age, yet to admire present encapsulations of global, or perhaps predominantly Western, proceedings in mass media through a historically-conscious grievance, repetitions of effectively unavoidable, almost apathetic, events provoke the audience as rife. Equally historically prominent forms of cultural rebellion, in the arts, are so infiltrated by mediocrity, and institutional corruption, that the broader message of effective revolutionaries is so distilled as to render it unfeasible in application. Enable me to wallow in the negativity of the situation, and indulge myself in an amateur’s political theory. As degrading, malaise-saturated sentiments established themselves in prior generations, so they will in the future. Presently, however, it can perhaps be observed that a culture of systemic individualism, and ideological liberalism, has pervaded Western populaces, particularly in the post-Soviet dissolution vacuum of effectively non-existent political opposition. No longer is geopolitics revolved around ideological warfare, as was last waged by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on a Soviet Union beyond Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts at salvaging reform.
Since, a Russia first helmed by Vladimir Putin in 1999, and overtly proposing a vehement anti-globalist stance – albeit while begrudging the economic rule of an oligarchy so resented in communist eras – has confounded to conspire in events in a liberalised European and North American society, and demean these regions’ shared vulnerabilities in the midst of Iraqi and Afghan intervention failures, and the 2007-08 economic crash. So advanced does this society consider itself, and so detached has civil class been from the imposed campaigns of economic austerity, that fear has been eliminated from the average working-class and middle-class, or newly-formed ‘technical middle-class’, ‘new affluent workers’, ‘traditional working-class’ and ‘emergent service workers’, and a fracturing from the lowest-ranked ‘precariat’ – ‘precarious proletariat’ – has emerged to practically disassociate politically with the abundance of frothing poverty. Adam Curtis, a high-profile theorist and documentarian regularly featured on the BBC, cites ‘oh dearism’ as the cultural trend to which an overwhelming majority of us apply ourselves, so sheltered are we by fallacies of political protectionism that the impact of Rwanda, or Bosnia’s 1990s genocides, is broadly inconsequential to us. Aligning with his fellow theories of an emergent constitutional Western policy of political simplification – depicting a ‘pantomime world’, with fables of good vs evil, regardless of the terrorist insurgency, disavowed foreign despot (best encapsulated by the dramatically altering exploitation of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s image) or migrant crisis – and the corroboration of highly-intelligent internet media into pitting those with shared ideologies alongside one another in a potentially civil-war-condemning cycle, Curtis’ original statement captures the exacting essence of a trend that has infiltrated each ember of a diversified journalistic network; even into sport.
Perhaps it is the latter of the theologian’s observations that appears the most relevant in our relation. Technological utopians, with foundations in Karl Marx’s idolised dissolution of monarchies for science and democracy, the diminishing optimism of 1970s capitalist culture and particularly Californian-based dot-com 1990s revolutions, featured bohemian and anti-establishment sentiments first heralded in 1960s counter-culture and prophesised a suspension of traditional politics, yet was undermined by stock market crashes in the internet industry and the reality of economic reckoning. Cyber-utopians have partly acceded this mantle, yet to far from an equal extent, and with greater fixation on influences in the civilian-rousing 2011 Arab Springs and Occupy Wall Street campaigns, and revolting against established world orders. The disdain with these failed attempts to divert control, and a frustration with an instilled, unrewarding situation led to ideological confrontation between one another, and a retreat to democratic influences. Global corporations, conveyed by Curtis through the Aladdin electronic system, exercise control over the entirety of our cyber lives, stabilise politics by predicting challenges and confine algorithms to associate like-minded individuals together. An ideologically polarised society, entirely ambivalent to media that opposed their resolved, confined view, elected a reality TV character, and political non-entity, Donald Trump, to the White House. Frustrations were rooted into the Brexit vote. Compromise exists on a minor fraction of the scale it once did; 1960s and ‘70s British politics alternating on the verge of every scandal either side of the pendulum, yet in the post-crash era, glued to its principles in all but one demographic currently; anti-austerity teenage, and 20-30-year-old, University students or graduates.
No platform encapsulates this better than Twitter, where currently right-wing extremists are facing recompense for insubordinate vitriol and conspiracy to discriminate; de-verified and suspended. Accounts run by state-corroborated technology infiltrate the market and respond vehemently en masse to each story relating to Trump’s presidency; one so tumultuous, polarising and disgraced that, regardless of its incapacity in 20th century politics, would’ve have long-since been impeached with any degree of sanity. Such, it will not merely be the result of rational political rhetoric – economic failings, social stagnation – if Trump, and Theresa May’s scandal-prone Conservatives, are swiftly deposed at the first democratic opportunity, currently scheduled in 2020 and 2022. Independence, and ideological superiority, reigns in present politicised media, and repeatedly rears its unfortunate head of division whenever opposition arises. The development of media only serves to resolve one’s ego, as individualism topples subservience to the past influence of media.
An air of conceit has always defined the profession of journalism. Not psychologically afflicted, nor as megalomania-inclined, as the career politician, they prefer to influence through reactionary means, though few serve their own ideals – it is rarely profitable in independent media. They are the outlets of propaganda, of spin, and of feeble attempts at persuasion, and are largely correctly derided with the contempt otherwise only demonstrated to estate agents, investment bankers and the aforementioned politicians. The other end of the journalistic spectrum features the failed writers; lacking the sufficient creativity or independence to sustain a viable career on their bland sentiments and largely inane private pursuits. This is where the modern trend intervenes; typically younger, self-righteous, egoistic facets of laughably simple influence who retweet baseless claims and compose statements of their own with the ferocity of a pit bull terrier in split-second, uninformed responses to any event that apparently favours their politics. In both right-and-left media streams, they are the inexpensive outlets of hysteria, and sensationalism; flouting journalistic ethics of years long since passed, and believing they bolster ideological influence. Seldom, unless in politically independent media, is maturity or morality valued. Such are the demonstrable epithets of their collective character.
A sentiment often targeted at this lambasted sector cites their distorted rationale; they think with the quill, not with the heart. The accepted practices of the profession are shrouded in a much-vaulted code, yet are often belied in extortionate modern claims. The distance, throughout this campaign of pomposity, between it, and factual subject matter, has grown to unprecedented extents. Generally, it is not the valued mode of employment many formerly valued it as. Political undertones define each individual facet and minutiae of its expanse, while masochistic tendencies must define those who embrace these expressive constraints. Fortunately, detachment from the often-turgid environment of mass media presents itself copiously in external materialistic imposition, ideological subservience and self-flagellation.
Yet the influence of disdainful, even cynical rhetoric only possesses a limited capacity. Ambition befalls the majority of minds. Nowhere is this as acutely, nor intrinsically, demonstrated as in journalism. Schemes to independently alter society’s collective rhetoric are unfeasible, and the exploitative vacuum is consumed by mass media – secure professions are assured when employed by national sources, for whom articles are mundane, inconsequential and apathetically consumed. Eradicated, quite curiously to me, is the perfectionism and conduct that may have defined prior exponents. Erudite study, consideration and composure, again, is seldom realised on the national stage. Yet this is not a theme enabled, or otherwise, by sheer lexicology, nor alternative linguistic structures. Rhetoric is implanted without introspection; no mystery or intrigue, no inquisition, emerges. A definitive, if ephemeral, answer has to be provided for any minor query. Generalisations, such as the astounding value attributed within my declarative statements here, have to be adopted in order to unveil the audience’s apparently desired summation within the time constraints of incessant publishing. Concise affirmation of a subject is now the status quo. Yet has the art been ‘ruined’ by the demands of print media, or skewed in its mainstream formats by the invasive capabilities of immediate social media coverage?
Personally, perfectionism is both a hindrance and advantage. Journalists have the ability to both alienate a vast degree of their prospective audience and unify a vast cross-section; the former is certainly my forte. And it certainly requires an extensive reserve of self-value and moral haughtiness to execute this division. I’d wager that many of the sentiments I’ve shared through this platform for nigh-on two years have ceased resonance at my fingers, while furiously typing away. Imposing as efforts such as mine are – both to myself, and you, the supposed audience – and as vast as the vacuum of endearing sincerity can appear when regarding personal lexical choice over audience engagement, an influence is exerted over the sport. For every voice seized upon a particular subject, the prospect of action rears closer.
Ideological paraphrasing, or worse plagiarism, is not my intention – more commonly, in fact, I emerge from a blogging process rueing spurned analytical opportunities, as opposed to wishing I could condense my sentiments. More often will you find me distracted on an uncontrollable tangent than struggling for rhetoric, or its evidence. Rarely do I feel this response is coveted, or prevalent, in professional journalism.
British writer Simon Kuper, often credited with the expansion and commercialisation of profitable footballing insight ‘from an anthropologic perspective’, modestly rejects his apparent notoriety in favour of other sources of creative innovation; “Nick Hornby and Pete Davies created the idea in publishers’ minds that football books could be good and sell, not me. Maybe I did influence some authors to carry out studies on football in other countries, but the process of excellent books being published was already under way.” This alternative form of documentation, to truly immersive extents, has partly remodelled the industry, and enabled particular journalistic entities to liberate themselves from the constraints of a six-inch column. Yet its popularity pales in extreme distance to that of the sensationalists. A minor status in the wider broadcast of the sport could well persist for the explorative, non-fiction study of particular subcultures and structures of the sport, especially when provided with the uninspiring morsels of untouched subject matter that remains from previous pioneers. So extensive are prior guides that the overlap of topics is relentless, and coverage intrinsically detailed, elapsing the fervour for exploration. Perhaps a victim of their own success, in respects of a numerically few, yet satiating, examples, these resorts and indulgences of independently-minded writers are threatened. Yet in an era of intensified tactical observations and fixations, and the total economic distortion of the industry, their role arguably wields far greater, liberalised influence on the exploration of the themes. Not purely courtesy of word count, but of the measured, targeted abilities of a year-long investigation and its various compasses.
The ultimate disgrace to the profession, perhaps, is its modern disparity with mainstream broadcast forms – television and social media. Usurped dramatically in public favour by the pundit, a damning indictment of the diminishing societal service of journalists has emerged in footballing circles. Seldom educated in the niceties of the occupation, ex-players speak candidly and with empathy to the situation of players replicating previous personal experiences, and are rewarded gratuitously for their naturally-garnered insight in internal service. Perhaps, an inherent lack of institutionalised nous that manifests itself within charismatic, if often divisive pundits, plays into the advantage of ex-professionals in our era of journalism. Subjectivity is the deity of the day. The consumer market no longer demands objectivity, clarity or impartiality. In an age of ‘good vs evil’ geopolitical, and ideological, rhetoric, descriptive polarisation has overruled what may be degraded as fence-sitting. Objectivity, however, values its audience. It presents the established facts, enables the reader to form an individual opinion, and hopefully to ponder and question both their views and the sentiment of the opposition. Personally, I would hope to profess objectivity, alongside honesty, as my most valued qualities, regardless of whether any journalistic register is employed. I fully accept that I can be wildly out-of-touch, extremely liberal with application of supportive evidence and socially divisive, but such are the risks of the profession. Some are unable to regard these fallibilities.
Black humour defines eras of dismay, disunity and dejection. Yet the profanity of its employment is stunted in modern media, while the socio-economic polarisation we cultivate extends to unprecedented scopes. The potential for introspective reporting should not be belittled by our age, rather fostered as we descend into lunacy. It would, at the very least, ease the strife. Volatility will not undermine our society, nor the mired profession. Conformism cannot extend to a subsect that in their very framework should adopt a stance far removed from the tumult – downward convergence, and buddying-up attempts, fall on deaf ears unfortunately, despite the congregation of intellects alike in their thirst for a particular sanctum serving simplification of events to cultivate a definite opinion. Any apparent duty towards engaging certain emotional responses acts as a structure threatening to any potential societal security. It’s how nuclear wars start.
Analytical, and informative, public service remains the tent those within the profession gather under. Words, easily alternated for any range of synonyms, that are unfortunately hollow. For what is the use of good intentions if they can so easily be strayed away from? The status quo of analytics alters day-by-day. Producers, alongside politicians, are at mercy to what corporations helming the common person’s online tendencies inform them. Journalists lay in the treacherous no man’s land, effectively the modus operandi for spin. A rightful derogative opinion withholds its resonance, and will continue to do so until they are torn down – never, then. They hold absolute power within society, because we all are members of the union. We all have, bred within our very psychology, these tendencies. We lie to ourselves to ease the burden of a troubling situation. We shapeshift in order to remove the threat of losing face. We paraphrase our leaders, our employees, our superiors in order to gain favour and security. We all compose needless utterances to uphold our personal values, regardless of whether anyone cares, or agrees. And because these trends are so widespread, our society has absolutely thrived upon it. Fortunes have been established, and reputations resolved. These form the structures of our very livelihoods. Cultural, and ideological individualism only further encapsulates these disdainful facts.
Does this status and influence alter when diversifying our perspective to nations other than the UK? Potentially, but if observing footballing journalism, what better geographical microcosm could encapsulate the sport’s extreme modern tribulations better than the settlement of the wealthiest league in the sport, and of twelve of the top 30 sides – including greater sum capital than the five Italian, four German and three Spanish sides in the same list – currently adjudged by Deloitte to possess the greatest revenue streams and structural profitabilities of the globe’s competitive institutions? Certainly, many other national media are prone to hyperbole, to secrecy and to downright deception, yet when assessing the state of the profession, and from the perspective of most clarity as a subject of the entity, it appears the most insightful line of inquiry.
The prognosis is bleak, and can easily transfer to the subtext of sport. Institutions guarded by corporations, and professing even weaker values than within politics, ravish from the secretion of romantics, and socialists, into the industry’s coverage. These are those whose capabilities restricted them only to combine work with their passions; how dour. Prophetic ability does not define these employees, and nor should it. But what frustrates me most with those within the industry is the secrecy, in an age where information should be so freely available. Perhaps this relates more to pundits, than even to career journalists; withholding inside intel from a public that demands constant quenching. Unless the concept of the profession has entirely changed, or I fail to allow for the potentially libellous claims that befall false or pre-emptive reporting, it often appears as if great detail from within the industry is being undisclosed, at all levels, to satisfy those within the frameworks of power. To a degree, certainly, this has forever been the case particularly within the football industry, but when scandals and misuses of power are applied to an unprecedented degree, politics cannot be allowed to prevent the output of the truth. And this fundamentally relies on moral values. Thus, what other conclusion or indictment could be offered but to condemn the industry as amoral, or at least immoral – ironically, the only common knowledge behind which the extent of the truth is shrouded. Unless the profession is able to address its liabilities, clarity is lost.
It is an ever-evolving, proactive question; is our media fit to query the events of our age? We, ourselves as consumers, are ever-changing templates and projections of societal trends, so why must prerogatives and ideals remain so tightly confined? The commonly regarded merger between degrees of separation and objectivity is faulty, and cannot be sustainably relied upon – especially as the issue has little to do with the industry’s proponents and visible antagonists, but their profession’s institutionalism instead. The self-fulfilling prophecy of journalism, perhaps, is to reveal more about the world through its shortcomings than solely through its production value, and perhaps that is an ironically endearing circumstance. To wallow in moral infidelity and blatant miscommunication – or, to paraphrase late American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, ‘be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity’ – the increasingly decentralised profession, in all facets of its influence, defies not any apparent principles, but those who it supposedly serves. A treacherous line to toe on a daily basis, certainly, but there are some who are foolish enough to try their conceited hand at it…
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!