The subheading of my last post, Lit Crit Femsplainers was ‘the diversity problem that nobody is talking about‘ – Now I realise that this is not quite true and a better subheading might have been ‘the diversity problem that almost nobody is talking about.’ That person who is talking and writing about the problem is called Batya Ungar-Sargon who is the Opinion Editor of Newsweek in the USA.
Batya has written a book – Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy that you can find here. I have ordered this book from my local book shop but I haven’t read it yet. The next best thing, however, is to listen to some recent podcasts where Batya has been interviewed about her book.
For a shortish interview, I recommend a discussion with Jonathan Kay of Quillette that you can find here. But if you have an hour or so to spare, a conversation with Meghan Daum of the ‘Unspeakable Podcast’ is even better. You can find it here. Meghan is a writer I admire greatly and I will be returning to her work in a future post. I think would be fair to say that she is an old-style liberal feminist who doesn’t have ‘much truck’ with victim culture and the values of 4th generation feminists (toxic-feminism). I strongly recommend her book, The Problem With Everything.
According to Batya Ungar-Sargon journalism has become elitist and divorced from the values of the general population. Fifty years ago, less than half of journalists had a university degree. In many cases, they lived alongside ordinary blue-collar workers, shared the same values and understood their problems. Often, they learnt their craft through an apprenticeship in smaller local newspapers before moving onto national daily papers. Now that has changed, the local press has largely collapsed and that route of advancement has closed off. Journalists almost exclusively come from elite universities (Russell Group in the UK) and from a small range of academic disciplines. In the Quillette interview Batya rather unkindly, but accurately, refers to ‘vanity degrees’ from elite universities. In the UK that means the humanities, in particular, English Literature. This matters, because in general students from less affluent backgrounds study vocational degrees such as engineering, law or medicine that lead to well paid employment. They can not afford to do otherwise. The costs of non-vocational degrees and subsequent unpaid internships that lead to a career in journalism select for those who are backed by family wealth.
Meghan Daum recounts how she had to leave New York in spite of a successful career in journalism because she was unable to pay off her debts. Meanwhile, those who remained closer to the centre of publishing were often backed by family wealth. Fortunately for us, Meghan settled in Nebraska for a few years where the cultural apartheid seemed less apparent. Attorneys and doctors socialised with fireman and plumbers to produce a culture that was less divided and insular. Her writing and journalism have been richer for this experience.
Batya argues that these affluent backgrounds encourage journalists to focus their attention away from the economic disparities from which they have benefited, towards identity-group or ‘woke’ politics where they can more easily signal virtue without being accused of hypocrisy. An additional factor is, of course, that their degree subjects are often heavily infused with ‘Critical Theory’ and they go on to view the real world through that distorting lens. Indeed, journalists frequently show contempt for ordinary working people, particularly males, in the name of ‘Social Justice.‘
There is also evidence that higher education leads to greater ideological prejudice (full reference cited below and see link here). Education appears to reduce people’s unfavourable attitudes towards people of different ethnic/racial groups and general non-conformists. However, it increases prejudice towards people with different political/ideological points of view.
The funding stream of newspapers has also changed. At one time, the production costs were paid for by adverts, but not anymore. The crucial metric upon which funding depends is social media engagement. Unfortunately for us all, the best way to create engagement is to ‘rile people up’ and identity politics is a very good way of doing that.
Although this wasn’t a topic of discussion between Batya Ungar-Sargon and Meghan Daum, I suspect that a lot of the hostility directed toward Joe Rogan by mainstream media journalists stems from his not being ‘one of us.’ Despite his lack of the required type of college education he attracts 11 million viewers to CNN’s 500,000 and that really annoys some journalists. He is also a much better and more patient interviewer than they are, which must also hurt. On the whole, brilliant guests can shine without being constantly interrupted and the weirder guests make fools of themselves.
In various posts, I have spent a lot of time criticising English Literature graduates in the media. English was perhaps the first of the mainstream academic disciplines to be colonised by toxic ideas originating in Social Sciences and the ‘studies departments’ such as Gender Studies. There is hope, however, some of the most insightful commentators on our present predicament, such as Batya, come from an English Literature background. Other examples would be Helen Pluckrose, Iona Italia, Meghan Daum (I think), Andrew Doyle and Douglas Murray. Perhaps English Lit was first into the sewers of post-modernism and Critical Theory and its graduates will be the first to show us the way out and English Literature will return to its academically rigorous roots.
Although this post may seem like an attack on education itself, my point is that education is not confined to humanities departments at elite universities and journalism should reflect that diversity of educational backgrounds.
Henry, P.J. & Napier, J.L. (2017). Education is related to greater ideological prejudice. Public Opinion Quarterly, 81, 930-942