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Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

It was 2005 and I felt like I had to do it. I wasn’t forced, but the culture of the previous several years, for good or for bad, saw moderately intelligent 18 year-olds follow the natural and somewhat expected path to university. Like so many of my peers I would choose to apply to an institution, to a course that I had not put a lot of previous thought in to and that rather explains where I am today. It is my fault, there’s no denying that, but now I have reached an age where the decisions made by my teenage self matter, I can’t help but think there wasn’t enough emphasis put on how seriously I should have taken it all.

While scrolling through university courses, my mother stressed the idea that I should apply for a course that provides training. This was a novel idea, but one that had never really been brought to my attention, not by teachers/career counsellors/or anyone else who may have potentially held influence in my life, so the concept was fleeting. I was never going to be a lawyer, and couldn’t bare the thought that people would put their trust in me if I trained to be a doctor, but what training was there that built upon my pre-existing talents? For years I had loved acting, music and writing; communicating in general, I felt, could be beautiful.

Although I built up a reputation as a performer throughout school, I didn’t always enjoy the attention that came with it, and with the lone voice of my mater easily ignored and no secondary voice to support her, I opted to apply for an enjoyable course in the remaining form of communication I enjoyed.

2009 arrived, and after three informative, educating and entertaining years of Creative Writing, I realised my future employment. Working for a newspaper would be the best opportunity continue using my talent in the workplace, but as the year-old recession hit the already struggling environment of journalism, every paper’s in-house training scheme was postponed, and none were willing to take on an untrained, directionless writer, so I looked for work abroad.

Whilst in Prague, working as a tour guide, I answered an advert to write for a website, unpaid, and as there were no other interning placements on the planet, it seemed this was my only chance to gain some work based knowledge. A year later, with experience under my belt and a desire burned on to my brain with a cattle prod stencilled ‘journalism’, I returned home and got a job as a salesman to keep my pockets moderately full while applying for every journalist job advertised.

I remained unsuccessful. Newspapers were not just looking for people with experience, they wanted their upstarts to have training, but by doing a now clearly useless degree, had I missed my chance?

Not if I had anything to do with it.

I applied to do an MA in Journalism, a course that provided elements of training, and thanks to the two years fighting for payslips and paying rent, I approached every lecture with a new level of energy and focus. I impressed so much that I was recruited to write for two academic textbooks before I’d graduated. When it came to applying for jobs after learning shorthand, radio production, news writing, multi-platforms, social mediums, interviewing techniques, law and ethical considerations, I picked up on a sentence that in every job specification I looked at. “The ideal candidate will have passed all their NCTJ exams.”

My course had taught me everything I needed to be a journalist, I had even been recognised in the field of journalism academia. I had done work that most people get good money for, but my course was not affiliated with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). I had not passed exams those in charge deemed necessary to enter the profession.

The training no one had promoted when I was a teenager is haunting. It’s a cloud over my head every time a job is highlighted on my Twitter feed, and it makes me angry with everyone who should have mentioned it throughout my comprehensive education.

Two or three generations before my own, people were required to learn a trade, they were told they had to train in something. My father; he’s a trained carpenter and although companies he’s worked for have gone bust, or he’s faced redundancies over his 40-plus years of work, he’s never been out of a job for long. My mother, trained as a teacher, was only without work when she had my brother and I.

Training is important in everyone single person’s life; why it’s been overlooked for so many years, and why we have sent people to university without them being informed of it’s role in society, is a joke. Journalists graduating university now don’t realise what a bleak future there is for them, and until they discover the importance of the NCTJ before applying to further education, there will be thousands of old hacks unable to work.

I have met people who have worked since 15 and reach the age of 65 only to be struck with cancer, dementia or worse, die. Some people who have worked all their lives fall apart from working too hard before getting a chance to enjoy their retirement. One thing I can say is that I’ve enjoyed my youth. I’ve travelled, worked abroad, spent three years in education learning how to enjoy the effects of alcohol, and now, I am a highly talented journalist yet an officially untrained twentysomething in fear that I might never experience my chosen profession. When I read such stories of people in my situation declaring bankruptcy before having a chance to earn any money or worse still, committing suicide thanks to their inability to secure full time work and pay off their student debts and career development loans, it further demonstrates the importance of emphasising training from a young age, and perhaps listening to your mother more often.

If anyone requires a very talented, but unqualified journalist, please contact me on the details enclosed and we can work on fixing society together.
Yours Sincerely,
Huw L. Hopkins

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For two weeks I would take part in two vastly different types of work experience. Week one would be at a very popular, national car magazine and the second placement would take place in a small local newspaper.This diary captures the experiences of a professional work environment for the first time as a journalist in busy London capital and a sleepy Midland city.

The first week I stayed in London with a friend.

 

On the fourth day God created travel.

Getting to work is getting easy but despite the night in, I’m beginning to get rather tired of long hours travelling across London. If I ever get a job here, I will have to get an apartment one or two stops away on the tube. But it is easy.

To begin the day I was given the task of doing some work for the new website. All the content has to be re-uploaded before the site goes live and I had the pleasurable role of attaching images to stories one-by-one to ensure that they all fit correctly on to the page. A job I imagine most work experience bums have to sit through at some point.

After an hour or so of doing this, I was informed by one of the photographers that I would be helping him on a photo shoot. This meant I got to drive…

The two cars in particular were an original and the latest version of the BMW 3-series 320. Two pretty cool cars, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t give a damn about them.

We drove down to a place in Surrey where they film lots of things for movies and TV and we cheekily parked round the back to do some shooting. I first drove in the 2012 model, which is a diesel sport, and it was pretty incredible. It was so comfortable and the first thing I noticed was that the digital mph number was reflected on to the windscreen, directly where your eye points when looking at the road. This I thought is a must for every car, its so simple but so important to not have to take your eyes off the road.

The car was actually owned by the photographer himself and before I got in it, he called it his ‘baby’. I have never been more nervous driving a car. The bonnet was HUGE, much bigger than I’d ever driven before and I used to drive estate cars for a living as a travelling salesman. I was terrified driving past parked cars on the road or on narrow streets in case I clipped something going past.

Once we arrived at the destination the photographer set up and I was told to hold the flash while he did his thing. I felt like a bit of a tool standing there just holding a box and a light but these are the type of exciting things a work experience person gets to do I guess.

He then needed a few driving shots of the car and I wasn’t aware that the majority of moving photo shoots for cars in magazines are simply done on a roundabout. Honestly, the person driving the car just keeps driving in a circle and it’s the photographer that makes it look like it’s in different place. Top Gear doesn’t actually go to Vietnam or the North Pole, its all camera work*.

After taking plenty of images we parted ways. At this point I had to return the classic BMW back to the office and the photographer was going somewhere else to shoot in the midlands. The drive was beautiful and although the car lacked an impressive top speed, the fundamentals of the car were there. I will upload a story about that soon.

I returned back the apartment to throw on a suit and return out for the evening. The Oxford & Cambridge Club was my destination and to enter you had to wear a tie and suit jacket. The building was along Pall Mall, a beautiful Dickensian block where the rooms feature ceilings higher than some cliffs. After touring around through each room, upstairs, downstairs, every secret doorway made to look like a bookshelf, we spread out across 3 couches in one room, to fill less than 1% of it, and order some tea and scones. While we discussed politics, the budget and other things that floated in the stratosphere above my head I noticed a crusty old Oxbridge fellow sitting across the room from us reading a book titled ‘Blogging for Dummies’, I thought “right on, old dude, gowan wid yor bad self”.

At this point we headed for food in China Town where the crispy duck was cooked on the bone and removed from it right in front of you. The chow mein was one of the better ones I’d tasted and they served lychee juice, my favourite. A particular apt note was the choice of music this very traditional eastern restaurant played: American Country.

The evening was slightly dampened by the big city slickers on the table next to us. Three gentleman who thought they belonged on a pedestal, all close to the age of forty, all trying to one-up each other on ‘the chick they banged last night’. They were pathetic, lonely people who spent the whole night over-compensating for their miserable lives. “Welcome to London” I thought.

 

 

*This may be factually incorrect.

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For two weeks I would take part in two vastly different types of work experience. Week one would be at a very popular, national car magazine and the second placement would take place in a small local newspaper.This diary captures the experiences of a professional work environment for the first time as a journalist in busy London capital and a sleepy Midland city.

The first week I stayed in London with a friend.

 

 

I awoke with the same urgency as any man after a night of heavily spiced Bangladeshi curries and legged it to the toilet. This would become a recurring theme throughout the day.

With a little more preparation the night before, I was ready for the commute to the far west side of London slightly earlier today. The trains were all running to time and I never felt the urge to leap off in a moments panic. Oh no. I was now a veteran of the big city rush, I never had to pace, jog or run to any train.

I read an interesting comment piece in this morning’s Metro about people getting ready for work on the way to work and how there must be so much hair, plucked eyebrows, shaving remnants and nail clippings from a regular travellers morning routine before work flying around, we must be travelling in gross, unsanitary conditions. It may be simply because I read this article, but I certainly did notice a lot more people doing exactly this.

I arrived at work slightly early but with good intent. I completed the list of ideas for the facebook timeline from the day before and wrote a news item that I had found. This took a little under an hour, slightly longer than it took me to write the story from the day before. I had been asked to do the one from yesterday and I felt more pressure but today’s story was produced under appropriate conditions. instead of simply doing it I felt more pressured, more on that later.

I was then asked to fill out some car specifications on a road test article going in to next week’s magazine. This was far more complicated than just transferring data in to the correct column.

Of course I knew what none of this data meant so simply finding the right heading for the information to be published under was hard enough. I eventually found out that some of the information isn’t available in the press release and that I have to complete the boxes myself. How I was supposed to know how to calculate power to weight ratio or a car’s drag coefficiency rating I have no idea.

Much of the sheet was not filled in but I don’t think he was expecting me to be able to complete it as he asked me to make a list of what I couldn’t find so he can go back and do it. I haven’t received feedback on what I did or didn’t do well.

Some feedback that I did eventually get was one of the news stories I had written the day before. It turns out, it was shit. I took completely the wrong angle on the story and I let all my basic news-writing, upside-down pyramid techniques go out the window and it showed when he returned it to me. The piece was astonishingly awful. On the plus side, a different story I had written earlier in the day was put online, admittedly with a large amount of subbing but that is what sub-editors get paid to do. Still, I have to work on this.

Tomorrow it seems the picture editor is not in and I will be taking over a number of his duties. A large part of his job seems to be cropping images which I will hopefully have no problem doing as he showed me the ropes a little. A hugely interesting moment was being taken to the archives. The first car magazines even before the 1900’s were all bound and categorised in to large folders and books. I then continued my tour through a maze in to the image catalogue. Equally as colossal and just as precious, the printed images are stored in files of film that can be scanned on to the computer and in to a magazine.

On my way home I was due to meet Kyle and his workmates at his company pub quiz. My arrival was late and the quiz was in full flow, suitably enough as I would have otherwise stuck out like a short plump ugly child at a Nazi Youth camp. Not only did I not look the part being the only one not in an expensive high-powered suit, I quite clearly was not the intellectual match of the gentlemen that rounded out the quiz team. This lack of focused knowledge and expanse of general knowledge served me well in a pub quiz and when the team chose to ignore my request to change an answer (that would have been marked correctly) I got their attention. My moment came on the music round – where else? The theme was matching the song title to the artist with a colour in their name. Our team had 13/13 on this round that would be the catalyst to move us from a bottom-dweller to a respectable middle of the pack finisher.

At the close of the quiz Kyle offered me to view his office, it was the sky-scraper at the end of the street. In order to be let in I had to pass security clearance. At such a late hour there weren’t many heavies I had to fight pass. We then got in to the marble elevator to rise to the 35th floor. The office was an open plan with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city of London. Its walls were 100% glass and it provided views of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin, the BT Tower, as well as ever other visible landmark you associate with the elite London power system.

Kyle’s friend offered to take us to the Cambridge and Oxford Club tomorrow, a toffs association similar to Wightes, an exclusive club full of aging pompous elitists, an opportunity that cannot be missed and may deserve an entirely unique blog post or feature at some point.

In the meantime I continued to enjoy the view as there are not many occasions that an artsy bugger like me will be able to view one of the world’s most important cities from the view of one of the most important business in the world.

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For two weeks I would take part in two vastly different types of work experience. Week one would be at a very popular, national car magazine and the second placement would take place in a small local newspaper.This diary captures the experiences of a professional work environment for the first time as a journalist in busy London capital and a sleepy Midland city.

The first week I stayed in London with a friend.

Up at 6.30. This isn’t new. When I’m being good I often get up at the same time as my girlfriend back home, so I’m quite happy to get up, washed and dressed at this time.

I left just over an hour later. As I was walking to the tube I rang said girlfriend and she’d informed me that my colour-blindness had let me down again. My choice of blue shirt with a purple jumper and a red tie on top of grey trousers wouldn’t work. I then scuttled back to my friend’s apartment, where he is kindly allowing me to stay, to change tactics.

I made it on to the tube in plenty of time so I wasn’t completely bowled over by the rush hour rat race. I was also early enough that it allowed me to take my time and find the right train line and the correct platform with ease. Others seemed to be rushing round but I really didn’t see what all the stress was about, this may be because my starting time for the first day was an hour later than most people in London.

Once I got on the final train toward my destination, several stops along, the tannoy started to say at each stop “this train is going toward Waterloo”. Now this information posed quite an issue because I had got on the damn thing at Waterloo and I really couldn’t remember us turning around, we were still going in the same direction as when we first started. In panic, I leapt off the train at a place called Putney, which must have been a nickname as I think it’s real name was ‘Dog-shit Nowhere’, and began looking for a digital board a bit sharpish. Typical of Dog-shit Nowhere, there were few to be found so instead I asked a warden gentleman, at least that’s what I think they’re called, unless political correctness has issued a change in that department. He said the train I need is the one just behind me, the one I’d just got off, and as I turned toward the train so to did my chances of getting back on. The doors shut and the next one would be half an hour.

No need to worry as this was the reason I left so early. The next train arrived and I got on and took my seat. By the time it arrived at the destination I was now nearing the time I had to meet the co-ordinator of the work placement, so I ran and reached the office with about 3 minutes to spare, sweaty.

I removed my jacket and risked showing off my sweat patches to try and air my pits out to counter the problem and luckily the co-ordinator was half an hour behind schedule so this allowed me to recuperate.

Once we had done the hello’s and nice to meet you’s, I then proceeded to do this with everyone else in the office. One gentleman said I was the best work-experience person he had ever seen, because I was wearing a tie, I made a quick note to myself “this was gonna be easy”. The co-ordinator was well prepared despite being late and she had drawn me up a list of names of the staff members I’d be working with this week and correctly situated them in a seating plan for the office.

After the additional hello’s and nice to meet you’s, I sat, took a deep breath in then before I let it out, my supervisory person appeared. Quite a nice gentleman, I was glad to hear that he had studied at the same university I am currently completing a course in. He asked me how familiar I was with the magazine and the press release website that the company generated a lot of stories from, I skirted around my lack of car knowledge so expertly that I’m sure he didn’t suspect for a moment that I knew anything about cars, but he ran me through the basics anyway. Before I could do such a thing another man appeared at my desk.

I had of course just done a tour of the office, and I knew that some of the staff members weren’t at their desk when the co-ordinator had initially shown me around, so I didn’t in fact meet everyone. But did I meet this gentleman? For the life of me, I couldn’t remember. When he stood there expecting, I said “Hi I’m Huw, what was your name?”

He was someone I had just been introduced to. Fantastic. The Digital Editor. The person I should have memorised perhaps more than the Editor himself, the person I’d be working most closely with above all other staff members, and I’d already forgotten his name. Oh well, he gave me some work to gather the magazine’s most popular road tests in order of date so that when the facebook timeline goes in to effect they will be able to make good use of it. This took several hours and ate in to my lunch break, not that I minded I was there to impress, although at one point there was no one to impress as everyone seemed to take their lunch break at the same time.

25 minutes in to the company recess I set off in to the local high street to find myself a sandwich and a beautiful little genuine Italian café bistro with what I would later discover to serve the greatest Latte this side of Rome. Despite the great taste of this and an oven baked spicy meatball and mozzarella wrap I walked away a little disgruntled as everything cost more in London.

Well over £7 poorer, I returned to the office 15 minutes before everyone else to display my eager nature to an empty room again. I completed the remainder of my morning task and when my supervisory person returned from his lunch I was asked to write up a news story. “Yes!” proclaimed I, “Yes! I can write a news story.” It was of course a news story about a new car and its features…

As I desperately tried to stitch my limited knowledge base together with some quick wikipedia explanations I eventually cobbled together a 200-word story that I never received feedback on and I’m sure got entirely re-written. Something I will be sure to ask about tomorrow. How can I improve? That should impress them.

Following on from the work I did for the Digital Editor bloke, whatever his name was, I was asked to hunt down some additional landmark moments in motoring history to finish out the day, and while I didn’t complete it by the time I left (around 25 minutes after many others) I figured I can start of tomorrow with this task.

I turned out to be coming home rather late and thus rush hour had passed and I managed to avoid the obscene stress rush that I so feared when coming to London.

Once I returned my gracious host kindly offered to take me out for food which although I probably could have done without he seemed keen to show me about town and ensure I have a good time so I happily accepted. We went to a wonderful and mildly famous Bangladeshi restaurant Tayyab. The place was alive. For a Monday evening at 21:00 when a table eventually opened up, the restaurant, all three wall to wall packed floors of it, was only just entering their busy period. On the table next to us sat 20-25 blokes, an entourage of a certain Tinchy Stryder who seemed to be enjoying an evening out. There were so many of them they ended up taking the majority of the waiter’s attention but the food, when it arrived, was undeniably fantastic and it was easy to discover why the place was so full.

When food began to be digested and plates began to empty the place quietened down (a lot of this had to do with the sliding away of Tinchy’s group of friends) and once we went to exit upstairs another line of people had begun to queue in anticipation of a table.

Tired and ready for bed, the two of us returned with a view to do it all again tomorrow.

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Ahead of our magazine production Andrew felt it was important to look at sub-editing one another’s work found (stretched) this out to 10 points, because as he pointed out ‘there’s ten points to everything good’.

1 – Don’t start at the beginning

When you write a feature introduction you want to write something that has lots of impact, that pulls them in to the story. It is not impossible to do that when starting at the start of the story, but you usually find a better idea to start the story with once you’ve written it. Once you’ve revealed the anecdote, they want to know more and will give you time to read through the rest of your story. Get them excited then start the start of the story.

There are a few tried and tested ways at starting a feature; Reveal an anecdote, state an unusual fact or say something shocking.

This applies to someone else’s article when you’re proofing. Subbing is not just checking for apostrophes, you have to read like a reader. If you need to re-write the intro you re-write the intro, if you want to re-write the whole thing do it.

2 – Don’t accept the first draft

It is a common failure of all writers to write something and its cast in stone. You have to approach everything you write as a draft, you have to write something then come back to it and re-read it, don’t accept the first version you wrote as the best version.

Instead of you doing it and getting credit for it, you end up getting a reputation of people thinking they have to re-write everything you hand in.

3 – Know as much as you can about your reader

There should be a difference in how you write depending on who you are writing for. If you’re writing for an enthusiastic car magazine, you’ll write differently than if it were meant to be for a teenage girl.

It can work to your advantage because you can talk to them in a more personal way. If your reader doesn’t know jargon you have to avoid it. Is your reader someone who is up with the news? The only way to weigh these things up is figuring out who your reader is. NRS, readership surveys, magazine polls.

4 – Have a conversation with a single reader

If you read features and stories they have a conversation with you, it makes you as a reader feel as if you know what’s going on and as if you’re part of the story.

5 – Keep it simple

It’s a great temptation to make things more complicated to use fancy words and write in a professional way, which very often gets interpreted as writing in a complicated way. Write about complicated issues, but write them in a simple way. There’s always a temptation to write and overdo it, sometimes people try to hard because fancy is better but less fancy is better because it allows the story to come through.

6 – Only connect

The reader only knows what you tell them, if you don’t make connections between one fact and another fact then they’ll get lost. Your reader doesn’t know the story you do, you have to guide them.

7 – Don’t rely on crutch phrases.

Things like ‘however’ ‘at this moment in time’ ‘now’ ‘really’ phrases that you use but have no use. The same point could be made should you not use them.

8 – Don’t leave participles dangling

The participle always refers to the object which immediately follows:

‘Having died’                        they                         buried him

Participle                        Object

‘Being lame’                         he                        did not ride the horse

Participle                        Object

You’ve got to pick up the ability to read the sentence you’ve just written.

9 – Keep subordinate clauses under control.

The sentence, which was full of subordinate clauses, was difficult to understand.

10 – Read and analyse good writing

Go away find yourself a feature that you think is good and see if they are subject to any of this.

Editor—-Contributor—-Sub-editor—-Designer

Plan—-Creates—-Copy-taste—-Layout

Comissions—-     —–(might go back —-(goes back to

                                  To contributor)            sub-editor)

Ultimately it will all go back to the editor for a proof check and they will pass the proof to press.

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The front cover

Huw L. Hopkins attended the launch debate, marking the release of the first ever book published on the hacking scandal.

 

Tuesday 7th of February saw the official release and launch debate of The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial (Arima 2012).

The book marks a turning point in journalism that will affect all journalists and the future of their profession. The debate panel featured a mixture of editors, journalists and academics, all highly respected in their trade. Chaired by Raymond Snoddy with live heated discussion from Kevin Marsh, Richard Peppiatt, Glenda Cooper, Bob Satchwell and Paul Connew, all of who recalled anecdotes of both a serious and a comical nature.

One of the editors of the book, John Mair strutted proudly around the lecture hall, relaxing on his walking stick like a Monopoly man with every property in hand. He and Richard L. Keeble have released The Phone Hacking Scandal at the peak of the Leveson Inquiry, that features many professionals who have sat, and many who will in due course, in front of Lord Justice Leveson.

The panel played the role of Crown, prosecution and defence as Snoddy allowed everyone equal time to let their opinions be heard.

Kevin Marsh and Richard Peppiatt spoke in favour of the prosecution. Marsh stated “I found it easy to contribute to this book” as he recalled some of the evidence he had heard at the Inquiry. Peppiatt told stories of his time as a tabloid journalist and how he asked himself “is this what I signed up to?”, when chasing Jack Tweed through the streets of London without any reason.

Paul Connew took on the brave role of defendant, as a former deputy editor at the News of the World. Despite not being present during the period of phone hacking, he admitted that “there was a period of four years where the lunatics were allowed to take over the asylum”, a statement that everyone on the panel agreed with. Backing him up with caution was Bob Satchwell who, as a younger journalist, also worked at the NoW prior to any illegal activities. He stood up for the red tops at one point saying, “tabloid journalists should be drinking in the last chance saloon”; as it is only then other hacks know where that line is.

In a central, ethical advisory role sat academic Glenda Cooper, who offered her own knowledgeable insight on the rise of social media, “it is easier to treat people like collateral damage if you’re not knocking on someone’s door”.

Despite the typically awful taste of the wine, it still flowed like a French Merlot between journalists meeting for a common cause, as well as a good gossip.

The panel sharing a few laughs

Raymond Snoddy did invite lighter moments in to the debate when Phil Harding, who was sitting in the audience, claimed David Blunkett’s affair with Kimberly Fortier was the first moment where ethical considerations went out the window. Snoddy said “What annoyed me was that I had lunch with Kimberly Fortier at least four times and nothing ever happened between us”.

Aside from the occasional japes, the book launch celebration exposed more ethically questionable practices than Lord Leveson could dream of hearing inside his courtroom. This included a snippet of information from another audience member, the erudite Nicholas Jones. “We mustn’t lose sight of the relationship between the proprietors and the government of the day. We knew how deep this was and we as journalists should have conspired together to go against proprietors.”

Many of the panellists, and several members of the audience contributed to the newly released textbook, a seminal work that John Mair doesn’t want anybody forgetting about. “Let’s not mince words here, we’re not just here to listen to a debate, we’re here to buy books” but the co-editor may be happy to give a free copy to Lord Justice Leveson himself.

Read Huw L. Hopkins’ contributory chapterNobody likes a rotten apple, but someone picks them’ in The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial now, or on his website http://www.huwlhopkins.com.

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This essay was written for my Global Media and Communication module, handed in 9/12/11, with a final mark of 63%.

Introduction

The existing media system operating in the Czech Republic is representative of the strides forward the country has taken since the shadowed past of pre-Velvet Revolution and Velvet Divorce, in 1989 and 1993 respectively. Politically, the country has a Presidential system and a Prime Minister-led Parliament. This is a clear indicator of the country’s determination to be an autonomous state since the fall of communism. The President that oversees the government is a political hangover of the communist regime; a leader with powers to overrule. The media system is a combination of a public broadcaster, mainly funded by the government, and a free system built on private ownership. This promotes competition, an attribute of capitalism in the United States of America that the general public wanted to recreate. This case study looks at how the Authoritarian theory as promulgated by Siebert, Peterson and Schramm in 1956 still influences aspects of the Czech print media system after the country tried so hard to remove itself from Soviet rule.

 

The Czech press and its governance

In 2001 the Czech Republic was the first country of the former Soviet occupied states to review their original media policy. After the fall of communism in 1989, media legislation proved such a low priority in comparison to the creation of a new government that the press simply began a form of self-regulation (Gulyás 2003: 85). When the country divorced from the Slovak Republic in 1993, the Press Act created was largely similar to the framework still in use today, one that promoted freedom with no regulation regarding foreign ownership. The state amended the original Press Act, managed by the Ministry of Culture, in 2000. It still clearly denotes the freedom of the press in Section 4. This entire section is summed up in one line of text: “The content of a periodical lies with the editor” (Klaus et. al. 2000)

Major restrictions include regulation on defamation. This is covered in Section 10. It states that if “communications containing factual allegations which touches the honour, dignity or privacy of certain individuals”, the affected can ask for a repeal or a response from the editor to be printed within 30 days. This section has caused the most controversy.

The general public tends to be of the opinion that attaching legislation to regulate the press largely devalues what the country fought for during the demise of Soviet power. Regulation goes precisely against the societal beliefs of what the free press should be. There was public outrage in 1994 when a journalist, Zdenek Svavorky, was arrested and jailed for four months when he described the President, Vaclav Havel as a “traitor” (Wachtal 1996).

The current political leaders have long had a widely publicised loathing of journalists, which has in many cases been duly reciprocated. If the level of detest is so high then why don’t the political leaders impose more restrictions on the media?

There would be, without doubt, absolute disgust on behalf of the public should stricter legislation be introduced, but I would argue another reason: The government tolerates the way the media system operates because it is ultimately the decision of Czech leaders to provide a ‘free’ press. Allowing the public to express their views in a newspaper can in itself be seen as a form of regulation.  Adorno and Horkheimer explain; “there is the agreement of all executive authorities, not to produce or sanction anything that in any way differs from their own rules, their own ideas about consumers, or above all themselves” (1944: 122).

The Czech government supports a system that is intended to allow private ownership and public body broadcasters to work in unison. This bicameral approach is represented in practice in all sectors of the media apart from the newspaper industry.

According to Metykova and Cisařová the current mixture of journalists is divided between those working before the fall of communism and those who came in to the profession following the Velvet Revolution and Divorce. These two types of journalist have opposing ideologies on what their role is in society.

 – Pre 1989

The journalists that survived the cold war reported a huge cultural change in their country. Despite this experience they seem to have developed a hangover of the journalism practices drummed into them by their previous leaders. The job they fulfilled was one that spoke for the government and provided information and structure to the daily order. “The ‘old’ generation identify themselves as the bearers of (arguably idealized) professional standards and professional integrity and pride”. (Metykova &Cisařová 2009: 733)

 – Post 1989

The modern journalist, or at least those who began working after the fall of communism, are far more aggressive in their attempts to undermine the government at any opportunity. The general feeling amongst them is that they now have the freedom to speak out against the government so they will. (Sparks 1998:  162)

The political leaders tend to take these criticisms personally; consequently they have let their feeling for journalists be known. In an interview with Forbes magazine in 1994, the Prime Minister, Vaclav Klaus stated, “journalists are the biggest enemies of mankind” (Gulyás, 2003: 87).

We can take a clear element of distaste shared between the two sides from this quote but Sparks argues that Klaus and other politicians later developed a collaborative relationship with many media outputs, especially TV Nova. The leading commercial Czech television station used these links with politicians to lobby for and achieve changes to media legislation. In exchange for this, the media diluted their hostility toward the country’s leaders (2000: 43). Therefore, as is the case under the authoritarian model, the government achieves support from the press without formal regulation.

Newspapers are under private ownership and must abide by the Press Act. This Act now falls under the terms of the Competition Law of the European Commission, as does the regulation of the rest of the media. The Competition Law says that it regulates “(i) cartels, (ii) abuse of a dominant position and (iii) merger control” (Hoffman 2005: 4). The Antimonopoly Office ensures that the terms of the legislation are followed by taking in to account the specific roles of each publication and investigating media convergences. The media is seen as a vital role in Czech culture, which is “viewed as a ticket to the future”. (Jehlička 2008)

 

Other theories the Czech press may fit into

Some may argue that 4 Theories of the Press is the Bible of media theory but many modern theorists have started to lose faith. There are already suggestions of a fifth, Development theory that applies to peripheral countries, as well as modern combinations of the original four.

Sparks (1998) concludes that the 4 Theories of the Press is a completely useless tool to benchmark the Czech media system against. This is true to an extent.

The Soviet-Communist system is obsolete as the current system was set up to directly oppose the purpose of a Soviet press.

With the press being free, perhaps the Libertarian theory offers a connection, yet the Czech Republic definitely maintains a solid government.

The Social-Responsibility theory does reflect elements of the Czech system. The Czech Press Act gives the impression of a free press, but its official legislation in Section 10 regarding defamation, and the jail sentence of Svavorky, proves otherwise. The media ownership also negotiates too many underhand deals with the government in order to influence freedom and legislation for this theory to fully apply to the Czech system. The media moguls Vladimír Železný and Ronald Lauder of TV Nova have proven that the Czech media owners are savvy enough to persuade the government to work in their favour, indicating self-interest rather than social-responsibility. The press doesn’t have a Czech media tycoon, as German or Swiss publishers own the majority of papers. Právo is the only Czech-owned newspaper. It is the second biggest broadsheet and not strong enough in power to broker deals with the government similar to it’s broadcast colleagues. In the absence of such deals, print journalists have no reason to dilute their antagonism towards the government. Notions of social-responsibility certainly do not encourage them to present a balanced view.

The Czech media system is a complex mix of journalistic practices from the old regime, the new revolutionists, the media moguls and the stubborn governance.

Such a hybrid of ambitious powers jockeying for position in this still young country can cause theorists to jump to conclusions when discussing which theory best describes its press.

With its private ownership, and the part control of broadcasting by the government it is the Authoritarian theory that still holds true. Despite Hitler’s control of the media, privately run newspapers faired rather well under Nazi rule. Alfred Hugenburg owned a successful paper that went largely uninterrupted in its choice of content (Sparks 1998: 40). It was taken over by the regime toward the end of WWII to ensure support for the cause but for the most part it was left to choose its own content. One thing the Authoritarian theory relies on is strict support for the government in power; the Czech press have very little belief in their leadership, but the theory should not be thrown out over such minor details. This lack of belief does not necessarily destroy the application of this theory. Adorno and Horkheimer argue that the emotion achieved after the consumption of culture remains the same, regardless of the political system. “Consumers appear as statistics on research organization charts and are divided by income groups into red, green and blue areas; the technique is that used for any type of propaganda.” (1944: 123).

 

 

 

Conclusion

Applying the arguably outdated Authoritarian theory to the press system of the Czech Republic is a questionable choice that will undoubtedly draw critics. That doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.

The Controlled Commodification theory has revitalised the concepts of self-regulation and state control. It is tough to argue without hesitance that the media system in China is entirely under control of the state, and the same can be said for self-regulation. The combined theory shows that both aspects have relevance (Weber & Lu 2007).

Just as Controlled Commodification developed from two ideas, for this reason I believe the Authoritarian theory may still be of use when analysing today’s Czech press. Although the theory cannot stand by itself when describing the current system, for reasons I have stated, its utility could combine with a second, or even third, theory after more specific examination. Due to the limitations of this article I am unable to expand much further than stating a prospective amalgamation with the Social-Responsibility theory.

Examples of the government looking after their own principles, and the media expressing their freedom demonstrate that it would be best to submit a Socially-Responsible Authoritarian media theory. As further research is needed of the two archaic systems, this is yet to be confirmed. What is clear from my study is that with the government’s attempts to control the broadcasting system, and the more relaxed attitude toward the newspaper industry, the Authoritarian theory should still be considered when describing the Czech Press.

 

References:

Adorno, T. Horkheimer, M. (1994) ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception’ Dialectic of Enlightenment: 120 – 167, Norfolk: Lowe & Brydon Printers Ltd

Gulyás, Á. (2003) ‘Print Media in Post-Communist East Central Europe’, European Journal Of Communication (18) 1: 81

Hoffmann, T. Fucik, J. Institute of European Media Law (2005) ‘Chapter 3: Czech Republic’, Market Definitions in the Media Sector [online] available from <http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/media/documents/&gt; [26 November 2011]

Jehlička, V. (2008) National Cultural Policy of the Czech Republic, Prague: Government of the Czech Republic

Klaus. Havel. Zeman. (2000) ‘Regulation No. 46/2000/Předpisy č. 46/2000’ Collection of Laws/Sbírka zákonů, [online] available from <http://www/sagit.cz.pages.sbirkatxt.asp?zdroj=sb00046&cd=76&typ=r&gt; [5 December 2011] (Translated via Google Translator)

Metyková, M. Císařová, L. (2009) ‘Changing journalistic practices in Eastern Europe’, Journalism, (10) 5: 719-736

Siebert, F.S. Peterson, T. Schramm, W. (1956) Four Theories of the Press, Urbana: University of Illinois

Sparks, C. (2000) ‘Media theory after the fall of European communism: Why the old models from East and West won’t do any more’, Curran, J., Park, M. De-Westernizing Media Studies, London: Routledge, 35-49

Sparks, C. Reading, A. (1998) Communism, Capitalism and the Mass Media. London: SAGE Publications

Wachtel, B. 1996, ‘Czech media: Democratic or anti-communist?’ Nieman Reports (50) 2: 51.

Weber, I. Lu, J. (2007) ‘Internet and self-regulation in China: the cultural logic of controlled commodification’ Media, Culture and Society (29) 5: 772-789

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