The Perse School

The 42: The end of journalism?

24 Apr 2015

Today, the 42 Society welcomed Sarah Mukherjee, former environment correspondent at the BBC. Her varied career spanning 20 years as a journalist and TV and radio broadcaster, led her to discuss just how much the world of journalism has changed since she began her career, and whether she sees a future for this important yet often reviled profession.

It’s hard to believe that only 20 years ago when she began her career as a junior journalist that Sarah would have to put together her copy on a typewriter, carry around a bag of ten pence pieces to make important calls on the go using the nearest payphone, and that she would edit her radio interviews by cutting and sticking back together reams of recording tape. These methods seem rather archaic to us in 2015, and they were certainly fraught with problems; Sarah recounted the time she forgot to take her tape recorder off ‘pause’ in an interview with David Attenborough, meaning she had to re-record the first 20 minutes of her interview!

In an age where anyone can be their own cameraman and roving reporter with the help of an iPad or iPhone, and easily upload breaking news to social media, why would we continue to require journalists to deliver the news? Journalism at its best provides audiences with a distillation of the facts, provides context to an issue and can give coverage to a seemingly small story. She explained how the Band Aid movement would never have come about if Michael Buerk hadn’t produced a visually striking report on the famine in Ethiopia, raising awareness of the country’s plight, and how those affected by the thalidomide scandal would never have received compensation from the drug company responsible if it weren’t for the persistent research and reporting undertaken by the Times newspaper.

However at its worst, journalism can be partisan, ‘economical with the truth’ and even dangerous (recounting the naming of perpetrators of child abuse in The Sun newspaper).  As journalists have fewer constraints on what they produce compared with broadcasters, this can cause them to create biased and ill-informed content to be consumed by the public.

The jury is still out as to whether newspapers will survive (leading figures in the world of journalism believe that some of the country’s most longstanding broadsheets will not survive the next five to ten years); journalism may evolve into a purely social and online domain – what is left to report in the morning’s newspapers when consumers have access to this news online, as it happens?

Sarah urged students to always be critical of the facts; a degree of scepticism is to be encouraged. She said it was important to always question the “story within the story”, and not to be just  “a passive absorber of broadcast content”.

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