Media industry: Four important lessons from Jeremy Paxman’s last interview

Jeremy Paxman went unmasked in his last interview given to The Times magazine (24.09.2016). As one of Britain’s most popular and controversial journalists, Paxman, 66, has amassed various juicy anecdotes and has led “war-gaming” interviews with the most influential public figures for the last decade on Newsnight for the BBC.

Besides the very personal statements he makes, unleashing about his strained relationship with his father, Paxman makes some audacious remarks on an industry he has worked for for almost 40 years. From the start, the young BBC trainee has been adamant about his role and journalism’s ideal. He has remained objective, as a genuine journalist, about what surrounds him.

Here are the four points that we can learn from his latest interview:

  • “It’s my job to dig”.

Journalism is all about “digging”, investigating, checking facts and telling stories. Paxman reminds us that a true journalist isn’t content with superficial gossip or given facts. Paxman is a journalistic model since his perception of news is to help in the existential crisis journalism is currently enduring. Indeed, a true journalist must dig more than ever before according to Eric Scherer and his “augmentated journalism” theory. His/her role only sees irrelevancy in today’s chaotic hyper-connected and over-informed society only if fact-checking and thorough investigations prevails.

  • In his memoir, Paxman expresses regrets about his crueller questions to Gordon Brown (”Why does no one like you?”) and asking Charles Kennedy, “Why does everyone say of you, ‘I hope he’s sober’?” He believes his famous monstering of hapless junior treasury minister Chloe Smith was needed to bring the government to account, but asking, “Are you incompetent?” was “unanswerable and unkind”.

A paradoxical idea arises here.

Paxman’s popularity could be grounded on the simple premise that he comes across as a relatively blunt, straightforward and brutally direct character. His image is colourful and attractive for the masses as he gives a sense of authenticity to an industry enduring a confidence crisis .

 Although he now seems to express regret, it has to be reminded that journalists’ role is intrinsequely linked to democracy. In saying so, it could be argued that Paxman’s purpose is first and foremost to embody the citizen’s voice. In this way, it could be added that Paxman’s controversial style could reflect a fringe of British agora’s voice, hence accounting for his important popularity.

  • The media, he says, can only accommodate one idea of a person. “I know that I will always be Mr Rude or whatever”.

Sad but true: a good key message in PR is a SIMPLE message. Putting forward a succinct and concise message is the most effective way to put a message across in the media industry and elsewhere. A simple message is easy to remember because it tells a story and ensures consistency (regarding a person, a situation, an organisation).

  • At times he sounds highhanded, especially when discussing peers. Newsreaders, Jon Snow aside, are failed actors, not proper journalists. […] “My great discovery in the last past year is that news doesn’t really matter”.

Paxman’s comment obvious doesn’t refer to the whole of the media industry, but his view on this matter is shared by many supporting the Postmodern stances around the media spectacle (infotainment) and the Simulacra theories.

Paxman’s view directly relates to Baudrillard’s investigation revolving around the impact that an image-saturated society can have on the process of representation of the real and creation of meaning. He argued that given that truth and reality are mediated by various mediums of representation, then it would have become almost impossible to distinguish the true from the false, the original from the copied. Likewise, Paxman’s comment could embody Debord’s early reflection on “spectacle” in society, in other words, on our world of mere representations, in which journalists are not journalists anymore, but representations of journalists.

Despite apparent simple statements, Paxman’s discourse remains highly relevant while contineously contributing to contempory debates on the media in society.

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