I’ve always been enamoured by professions imbued with a “higher calling”. Nurses, doctors, activists, and the last time I checked, journalists. After all, isn’t a major point in the whole “journalists vs bloggers” debate? The claim that journalists are held to a higher standard in terms of reporting, and more importantly, ethics?
To be fair, the title “journalist” has expanded a lot in recent times. In this age of self-publishing anyone with a novel idea and internet access is able to address an audience. One could argue that the folks at celebrity gossip website TMZ are journalists to some degree. Or the tabloids for that matter. After all, they do bring news to an audience that craves for the genre.
My argument here is not whether Ris Low is news. My own rudimentary understanding of the word’s definition is that “news” is the opposite of “old’s”. Anything that is current is news. Any instant thought on an old subject is a new thought, any content created is fresh content, any pointer leading to old content is a new pointer. As such, it is all news, and it is all relevant if you find the appropriate audience.
My argument is that the Straits Times has failed to live up to journalism’s higher calling. I will constrain this discourse only to Ris Low - there’s no knowing how long we could go on if we were to address the allegations of biased and incomplete reporting.
The role of the press has traditionally been the middleman between authorities and their people. She walks the line between being the government’s mouthpiece and the people’s defender. Above all, the role of the press is to elevate the level of discourse.
The whole Ris Low saga is a scathing revelation of ST’s priorities. In her latest online posting ST’s Online Editor Joanne Lee defends the stance that Ris Low is still news. She is defending ST’s extensive coverage of Ris Low even after Ris has stepped down as Miss Singapore-World. She is defending articles about Ris having to retake her exams (implicit allegation that Ris was caught cheating on her exams would be the news angle here) and Ris not allowed to shop alone.
Is it news? The two articles are the top read stories on the Straits Times Online, so yes. Does it sell papers, attract readers and eyeballs? Yes. If journalism were solely a business of dollars and cents, there probably would be no question. But we hold journalism to a higher standard than just the making of money. The question with producing this sort of news, I would pose to the journalists at the Straits Times, is this: At what cost?
Ris is a 19 year old for crying out loud. You’re really going to do this? Is it worth the short-term bump in online views, the pittance of ad revenue? Is there any empathy left in you? When you first picked up your pen, you did it with empathy. It wasn’t business, you were young then and money wasn’t the motivation. You wrote because you wanted to show the world a reflection of themselves from a myriad of perspectives. The stories of personal triumph, the informative investigative pieces you had spent so much time putting together, the call for action to help those who are suffering?
Do you not see, in your dogged pursuit of Ris Low, that you have caused suffering?
As Asians we are probably used to the Spockian justification, “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” (or the one, yes yes). But the public does not need updates on Ris Low. We do need a press who will have the courage to accept the long-term view that the shareholders are best served when the people are well-served. The short-term gratification of getting the public’s fleeting attention at the expense of what the Straits Times could and should be is a bloody waste.