Interview with a fan

This is possibly a bit narccisistic, but it’s my blog.

I was recently contacted by Jordan, a journalism student from the S I Newhouse School at Syracuse U in the USA.

He was interested in my comments on the paparazzi coverage of Britney Spears. He sent me some questions via email, so he could put some quotes in an essay he’s writing. I have posted his questions and my comments here, fyi.

1. Do you think journalists are compromising their ethics in their coverage of Britney Spears? Especially in
terms of invasion of privacy?
I’m not sure that we can say the paparazzi covering Britney are necessarily journalists in the accepted professional sense. They are totally driven by the fact that a good snap of her (particularly the “rude” shots) are worth millions of dollars. It is a purely mercenary transaction and Britney has bought into it with her recent bizarre behaviour. Psychologists are speculating that she’s got some mental health issues an attention-seeking disorder that feeds her other addictions too. For example, the weird scenes where she let the paps drive her car, her relationship with the sleazy Euro guy who appeared to be exploiting her illness, and so on.
Are the paps invading her privacy? yes, and no. She’s a star who lives by her celebrity which is a valuable commodity. she thrives in the public eye – even launching a new perfume at the height of her child custody and mental health issues. There’s an argument that she is also operating like a brand/franchise that needs any kind of publicity just to survive.
Her right to privacy is compromised by her public persona.
2. Do you think that her situation is “newsworthy,” or is she taking away from
other more important issues? If so, which ones?
Certainly she is only newsworthy because of her bizarre behaviour and her pre-existing fame. So, no she’s not really newsworthy in a a public interest sense. She’s newsworthy to the extent that “celebrity” is now a postmodern news value and that stories about her are commercially attractive to publishers.
In terms of what stories don’t get coverage, the list is endless, but let’s just mention the whole mental health thing, A huge social issue that gets only token coverage.
3. What do you think journalists should do when it comes to covering celebrities such as Britney Spears as to not compromise their ethics?
Stop doing it for money. Only cover her when absolutely necessary and turn their attention to more worthy subjects. In general, the issue for me is the commercial imperative to sell the news, Britney’s behaviour feeds the machine.
Thanks Jordan and good luck with the essay
M

4 Responses to Interview with a fan

  1. anonymous says:

    It’s an interesting idea, this one that media shouldn’t cover Britney Spears because there are more socially important things to write about. It’s purely idealistic and the problem is that people will only read what they want to read — a newspaper or a website can’t force readers to look at their worthy stories when they’d rather look at celebrity trainwrecks. The “most viewed” list at Stuff is always interesting in this regard.

    Tim Pankhurst from the DomPost had a line on this, summarised like this by Steven Price:

    “Pankhurst has no time for people who whine about stories on Paris Hilton. “Get real”, he says. Those stories are popular. Readers want them. Being popular is a sign of business success, a necessity, really. Besides, news would be unremittingly dull if it was filled with the critics’ ideas of worthy stories. Should we dump the Beckham coverage too? What you need is a mix. (Sorry, Tim, I’m a grinch. I like to think that worthy stories can be told in an interesting way. And I think that it’s disingenuous for the media to say they are simply feeding the public appetite for fluff, when they’re actually instrumental in creating that appetite. I think there’s a place for interesting-but-not-especially-important stories, but the media are overdoing it, and it’s creating an ever-shrinking hole for public discussion of important issues. Still, I think newspapers (and public radio) are doing the best job of maintaining that discussion. I have a hunch that Tim and I aren’t really so far apart on this issue.)”

    There’s a really big discussion to be had around these issues — and the merits of a non-commercial media is probably at the heart of it — but I’d be interested in seeing some views about whether the media actually can create an appetite for fluff, as Price puts it. I’m not sure it’s that straight-forward.

  2. @ndy says:

    completely ott…

    bah humbug. my home at anarchobase has been withdrawn as a result of legal threats being made against me by the litigious folks at mathaba.net. you can read the offending post at my new/old blog. i’ll be back with a new blog addy by the end of the week, but in the meantime, some publicity would be nice…

    cheers,

    @ndy.

  3. undergroundnetwork says:

    Hi Martin,

    I think there are several parties to blame for this crap swamping our news.

    Firstly the audience. If no one cared, there would be no story. But people are voyeuristic and they want to feel better about themselves by seeing famous people suffer. However they would not feel crap about themselves if they didn’t idolise these talentless morons to begin with.

    Secondly, you have to blame the celebrities. They crave the fame when they’re up, and they shun the fame when they’re down. They are all effectively whores who must sell themselves in order to further their careers. Why can’t talent sell an album, movie, etc, rather than exposure? Brittany, get a real job.

    Finally, the media is also culpable. Ideally they should report the news, of which I hardly see celebrity included. But I think these stories are too easy for them. No background required, no real investigative work, just some stalker with a camera. And unfortunately as corporate enterprises, the media need to make money. Audience wants smut, advertisers want audience and media want advertisers. So media want smut.

    Of course Brittany is sick, but arguably all involved are. What will be the panacea?

    See you in the tower,

    Paul

  4. […] Celebrity, Corporate media, Media, News values, Pornography, Smut Originally a comment on a message board, I think this short piece sums up my disdain for celebrity […]

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