Journalism is under threat. It’s always under threat, but in this country the government hates the media, big business hates the media, ordinary citizens hate the media and even the media hates the media. With the glut of fake news and clickbait online it’s becoming really, really easy to fool people into believing things that aren’t true just by posting them in social media. I feel sorry for real journalists who are trying to report the facts, and for columnists and analysts who are trying to make an interesting point, because increasingly, they’re being drowned out by bullshit. It doesn’t help when actual publications put turds in their own drinking water, as happened last weekend with the Huffington Post.
Let me put all my cards on the table here: I don’t read the Huffington Post, I think it’s mostly garbage. I had my own run-in with them when they launched in South Africa and published a salacious and factually incorrect article about me without taking the time to check the facts. Even so, it has a place and I believe in peoples’ right to publish and air their ideas, stories and opinions. I also think the Press Ombudsman screwed up by finding HuffPost guilty of hate speech. My now infamous tweet “People don’t understand free speech at all”, which got me fired from Idols, is truer than ever. Don’t let the Press Ombudsman use the term hate speech to shut down free speech.
Verashni Pillay doesn’t like me, and I know this because she has told me. We were once on the same panel in heated debate and she later tweeted that I was “White male privilege on fleek #GarethCliff”. I don’t even know what that means, but I don’t dislike her and I actually think she shouldn’t have resigned. If that video where Ferial Haffajee and Pieter du Toit interrogate that ‘Shelley Garland’ man is anything to go by, poor Verashni must have been nailed hard at Media24.
So where to from here for journalists? Citizen journalism may increasingly take the place of on-the-spot reporting and talented people with mobile devices will become the frontline of audio, video and photographic storytelling. Long-form journalism – of the kind that many people used to buy newspapers for – will become the province of podcasts and self-published books. If you’re in the media business today, the only thing you can be sure of is that things will never be the same again.