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Updated: March 19, 2010 13:14 IST

‘Endless fascination’ for celebrities in journalism

Special Correspondent
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REINVENTING ROLE: Robert Jensen, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas, delivers the first Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture organised by the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: M. Vedhan
REINVENTING ROLE: Robert Jensen, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas, delivers the first Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture organised by the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: M. Vedhan

Prof. Jensen calls for ruthless criticism of all that exists.

To help “find the new world through the criticism of the old one,” journalists should expose the hollow promises of “perpetual progress and endless expansion” and highlight sustainable ecosystem solutions, according to Robert Jensen, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas.

Dr. Jensen delivered the first Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture organised by the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) on “The Collapse of Journalism and Journalism in Collapse: New Story Telling and a New Story” on Thursday.

He said the dominant cultural narrative assumed “technological fundamentalism” – the idea that improvements in technology could solve the world’s problems – as its basis. This had led to an ignoring of the drain on the ecological resources of the world and had created patterns of over-consumption, which threatened the sustainability of human life.

In accepting the basic axioms of the larger narrative, journalism had failed to perform its role in a democracy of providing relevant and necessary information to citizens.

Decrease in standards

While the crisis in the journalism industry in the developed world had been highlighted in the last few years through reduced audience numbers and employment figures, there had also been a decrease in the standards of professional journalism and a “slide into banality,” Dr. Jensen said.

The “endless fascination” for celebrities had come into public affairs journalism and that and the compulsions of running large media outlets had resulted in increasing superficiality in journalism with “journalism-like material” dulling the sense of public criticism, while the ecosystem was being damaged.

A radical change in the framework is required with journalists willing to confront the powerful while identifying the complicity of all in the process, Dr. Jensen said, calling for a “ruthless criticism of all that exists.” Quoting Rabbi Herschel, he said “the few are guilty but all are responsible” for the ills in the system.

The idea of a “good life” needs to be redefined and the harsh realities of the world we live need to be explained. At the same time, journalists should highlight sustainable models of life practised in the current world.

The phenomenon of “paid news” was an obvious example of non-professional journalism, but there was a narrow kind of professional journalism which accepted the dominant narrative and did not subject its ideas to criticism. Journalists should come together and take greater control of the process of news construction and dissemination to avoid this pitfall, he said.

Earlier, Sashi Kumar, chairman, Media Development Foundation, said Prof. Pinkham was a “quintessential teacher” and a continuing source of inspiration. As a progressive and a radical, Dr. Jensen was the right person to deliver the first memorial lecture in Prof. Pinkham’s name, he said.

N. Ram, editor-in-chief, The Hindu, recalled his association with Prof. Pinkham and said he was a great teacher and steadfast socialist who had never lost faith in the values of ethical and professional journalism.

Sreekumar Menon, Dean, ACJ, said he still followed Prof. Pinkham’s precepts to writing clearly in his classes, while Nalini Rajan, former Dean, recalled him as a wonderful team leader. Bindu Bhaskar, who was in charge of the print stream at ACJ, said students had benefited from his rigorous classroom drills.

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