The Guardian’s two-minute commercial, Guardian open journalism: Three Little Pigs advert – video (view below), attempts to tell the story about how wonderful news coverage is in this age of social media.
However, it actually reveals more ugly truth about the media today then was intended.
I believe this commercial is the most convincing argument for closing down 24-hour news channels, most of which are responsible for brewing their own stories out of thin air to satiate their need for ‘content’. Even the term ‘content’ shows how little respect they have for us. The internal mantra must be, evidenced by the output we witness, keep them glued to nothingness and stage manage their emotions. We garner as much respect within news and current affairs outlets as a live television audience that claps and laughs on cue like a performing poodle.
This commercial fulfils Oscar Wilde’s prophetic insight that, “there is much to be said in favour of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”
Let me explain.
The fairy tale retold
The video begins with police responding to news that the Big Bad Wolf has been boiled alive. They move in and arrest of pigs.
You can watch the video here:
It is then revealed that the pigs were merely exercising the right to self defence, triggering much online chatter and the usual round of ‘experts’ called in to pad out news coverage with their opinions.
In the typical way that media outlets try to draw out stories, the Guardian creates a re-enactment of an asthma-suffering wolf coughing and sneezing, amid new claims that such an incident would not topple any of the pigs’ houses. Thus, the self defence claim is found wanting and the pigs are now charged with insurance fraud; they planned the whole thing all along.
In a further twist, it is now claimed the pigs were moved to commit insurance fraud because they were struggling to make their mortgage payments.
This leads to a new wave of stories, this time focussing on how complicit banks are in the pain felt by mortgage holders, sparking riots and leading to calls for an inquiry into banking.
Yes, just like the Brothers Grimm in the days of old, story tellers often return to their preferred, archetypal villain, which today is the banking sector.
All through the video the narrative is pushed and prodded forwards and sidewards by a torrent of chatter and opinions. The frenetic storm of babble amplifies what Ben Hecht once observed, that, “trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.”
The captain has fled the editorial desk
The high production values in this video will surely lead to much praise and uncritical usage by social media types as a wonderful testament to how quickly news moves and changes in this socially connected world.
Yes, you will see this video pop up in every two-bit Web 2.0 seminar and uncritically presented as evidence of the triumph of social media and rise of the democratising of news sense.
But what undoes this as a PR emblem for the Guardian and for mass media news services in general is the inconvenience of truth.
I began my career as a journalist and am saddened by how true the old quip has become that you never let the facts get in the way of a good story!
And so, as many of us have lamented for decades, the sensationalist, over-dramatised noise that gets dressed up as ‘news’ and blasted at us on radio, tv, newspapers, and news websites, is finally revealed as the ‘huffery and puffery’ we had long suspected.
I have long argued that more and longer news bulletins and the rise of 24-hour news channels has fuelled the lowering of standards. As Rebecca West notes, “journalism [has become] the ability to meet the challenge of filling space.” Even my beloved ABC News Breakfast program which began with much promise; sensible presenters, much news, no ads, has descended into a series of pieces to camera that regurgitate obvious generalisations about stories to ‘fill the gaps’ and make it feel like there is something new and urgent.
Indeed, the ABC News 24 channel, like the others, has again proven David Brinkley right, who admitted, “the one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.”
What this video also confesses is that not only has the role of editor been usurped by a desire for popularity and ‘clicks’, but that the great masses are pointed to as the arbiters of news values, trends and journalistic responsibility. It is not our fault, pleads the Guardian, we merely collate and dress up what YOU feed us.
At last we can compare the coverage to the facts
One reason why I am so grateful to the Guardian for being brave enough to make this commercial, is that by choosing a well known story, we, the audience, can clearly compare the objective truth of an event against the eventual sideshow of sensationalism that is called ‘news’.
We know the Big Bad Wolf had evil intent. We know the inner dialogues of all the players (and people, nations, institutions, natural events are all just ‘players’ to news outlets – grist to the mill).
Rarely does the audience have such an intimate relationship to the main players and their motivations.
In this case, we know the wolf was the unprovoked aggressor and the pigs were merely defending their lives and properties. End of story.
But the deliberately passion-stirring newsmakers and the reliably frenzied special interest groups all rise to the call and keep this story alive and bobbing from issues issue with little regard for the facts or the players involved. Indeed this pathetic scenario becomes a mere plaything for others to hijack and contort into ‘proof’ of their worldview and vested interest.
The chilling nightmare that this rendering of a fairy tale has become, casts its longest, darkest shadows across shows like A Current Affair and Today Tonight (in Australia). It follows that if the manic story sucking and spewing of the ‘news’ programs has already led news outlets to thrash past the facts of a story and wallow in the mire of opinions and interest groups, then current affairs programs are left needing to dig deeper and scavenge around the decomposing, rotten piles of cast off players and angles for sweetly stench worthy morsels that will arrest the jaded senses of the masses and cause them to tune in for more intellect-numbing muck.
In the absence of light and oxygen, of journalist virtues and public interest, these bottom dweller programs writhe in their murky swamps, routinely dislodging and rotating through their seven basic, fear-installing or greed-fuelling story templates.
Does this fairy tale have a happy ending?
There is a happy ending to this saga, albeit stained with melancholy and betrayal.
If others can see the truth this video reveals, can understand the great unveiling taking place before their eyes almost like a penitential prayer from within the fortresses of fantasy and foul play, then we can lift general levels of critical consumption.
The moral of this story should be to always take news coverage with a pinch of salt, especially when you find a segment making you angry or agitated.
Ask yourself, did our news stations really need seven news crews out in different community reporting the same old ‘flood preparation dramatisation’ that we see every time? Could the same information have been conveyed with a 30 second piece to camera?
Of course it could have. but as Henry Fielding rightly observed, “a [news broadcast] consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not.”
In the ultimate blend of mockery and irony, Channel Seven’s fluff show, Sunrise, this morning brought a talking head into the studio to marvel at the video, as previewed in this tweet by Jane Caro:
#sun7 off to Weekend Sunrise to talk about the guardian’s awesome 3 little pigs ad. Want to see how the media operates? Watch that ad (& us)
Can we can all wake up now?