Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tabloids - (mis)understanding class in the UK

Strong comments have been made about all kinds of morality, with appeals to "journalistic ethics" in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Now that the story has moved to include accusations that London's Mirror newspaper also utilized hacking and digitally devious methods to gather and manipulate information, there are a few things we need to reconsider.

It is fair to say that UK tabloids are based on the continuation of the British class system. How else can the continuation of a system that is ill-informed about decency and civility flourish? There is a gap between our understanding of journalism as informed reportage of  everyday life and journalism as the intentional manipulation of information and affect (emotions).

Journalistic education at the university level is about the former. Tabloid activity addresses the latter.

Tabloids are for people whose lives operate at the level of the immediate everyday, where emotion is the primary source of information. It is at this point that the internet exerts a powerful pull because it offers emancipation from the barriers of rationality, logic, regulation or law. This is where new definitions of proletarianization can be operationalized.

Tabloids reproduce the class bias of irrationality. Proletarianization offers a way of understanding how journalism is "degraded" from the standards of "journalistic ethics" which are laughable when applied to tabloids. Journalistic ethics cannot coexist with the internet.  

There is massive cognitive dissonance when journalistic academics and critics intone about university standards like "journalistic ethics" in the context of News of the World or tabloids in general. The disconnect is massive.

For academics this is a dilemma. Universities exist to train middle class professionals and thereby socialize them into systems of thought and behavior that reproduce the values of civility. (That's why a fascist university would be an oxymoron).

Why did universities fully emerge after the Enlightenment? Before the Enlightenment, in the tenth and eleventh century universities were exclusively a part of the literate class and belonged to the priests and monastery monks who wrote and read, then told the people what to believe (and give us your money while you are at it!). The rise of secular knowledge came with the Enlightenment, the printing press and Martin Luther's suggestion that people could read the Bible for themselves and make decisions for themselves: free will. Universities emerged in this space and we still enjoy the pleasure of liberal education for this reason.

Does this have anything to do with tabloids? It suggests that freedom from standards imposed by university educated journalists is embedded in tabloids and the digital. People who own tabloids knowingly generate material to feed the emotional needs of the uneducated. It's good for business and no reviews, reports, inquiries or regulations will be able to reconfigure the appeal to class-based emotions in tabloids.

For universities training journalists, there are no courses in tabloidization. However, in business schools that's where we teach students how to get at those tabloid emotions.

Pop culture is another story.