How Murdoch’s Empire Suffocates the Craft of Journalism
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The blowhard attitude isn't just an in-house thing, obviously; it colors the whole editorial mix. Heavily spun stories that demonize unions and the poor are baked into the News Corp brand, especially at Fox News and the faux-populist New York Post (where Murdoch also reportedly fired many newspaper guild members when he took over).
The larger the megaphone, the greater the danger that an owner can control wide segments of public opinion, limiting the airing of opposing views. Fox TV network owner Murdoch, whose News Corp. Ltd. makes him the world's largest producer of newspapers, changed the political orientation of Britain's best-selling newspaper The Sun from Labour to Conservative when he bought it in 1974. As a result, a goodly chunk of British voters got to read nine full pages of anti-Labour articles the day before the last election, including an interview with a psychic who claimed Mao Zedong, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin were supporting the Labour candidate from beyond the grave.
While marginalizing and manipulating ordinary people, Murdoch's newspaper monopoly has bred incestuous circles of influence spanning across the British political class. As media scholar Jay Rosen points out, “news is not their first business. Wielding influence is.”
But even if newspapers were just a tool for political leverage, they inevitably became its victim. The bigger crime story in the background of Murdoch-gate is that the people most hurt by the corruption, inside and outside News Corp, are ordinary working people who are abused by a corporatized organizational ethos.
So here's one angle on the scandal the papers haven't dug into yet: if corruption in journalism is rooted in culture, then culture change must begin in the workplace, by giving real journalists a voice.
Donnacha DeLong, president of the National Union of Journalists, wrote in the Guardian that had News of the World workers had effective union representation, the NUJ, as an ethical arbiter, could have intervened to change labor-management dynamics. But Murdoch had kept the union effectively “locked out of News International,” at the staff and public's expense:
A well-organised union provides a counterbalance to the power of the editors and proprietors that can limit their excesses. The collective can tackle stress and bullying and prevent people getting desperate.
Now we're all feeling the desperation. Media consolidation, the crushing pressure of the news cycle, and the drive to pander to salacious tastes in order to please advertisers, are rotting journalism from within. The promise of digital age innovation is being suffocated by a business model that treats news as a mere consumer product.
The takeaway from today's front page is that the news is not a commodity, nor is the labor of the people struggling every day to keep the press free.
Michelle Chen has written for ColorLines, In These Times, South China Morning Post, Clamor, INTHEFRAY.COM and her own zine, cain.