This is written from a small and dank room in the state of Arslikhan, as Private Eye calls it. My boss at the Sun, Tony Gallagher, has done an interview with the Press Gazette. His two chief points are that a) journalism is a trade not a profession and b) the BBC does not break stories, or does not break many stories. You will be unsurprised to know that I make the bloke right on both points. But are these two facts not related? Here’s what Gallagher had to say about journalism:
‘You become a journalist by practising it not by learning it in a classroom. I think one of the mistakes the media industry has made over the last 20 years is it has become that you have to have a degree and then a post-graduate MA in journalism and I think it is a shame that we seem to have cut off that route of coming into the trade at the age of 18, without necessarily going into the third tier of education and it something we are looking at very closely at News UK.’
I think there’s a lot of truth in that. But it does not go far enough. My suspicion is that a post-graduate MA in journalism almost guarantees that you will never break a story or write anything interesting in your life. The ear for a good story is instinctive and atavistic; when mediated by academics, that instinct is dulled by the necessity to follow a certain agenda.
Which is the case with the BBC. It does not break many stories partly because it does not think that there is a need to do so. Its journalists are part of a profession, not a trade. They sit above the rabble. And are not unduly bothered by how many people listen to them or watch them, unlike the rest of the media (which of course has to worry about such inconvenient data). But they are also in it for careers. Professional careers. And from my time there I can tell you that the instinct, the further up the food chain you go, is to stamp down on stories that might cause offence or controversy – because their jobs might be threatened as a consequence.