Artistic Licence

Artistic Licence

Published in the Sunday Business Post in April 2015

By Nadine O’Regan

The other day I was giving a talk to students about how to succeed in journalism. Some people might scoff at the very nature of such a talk – because, let’s face it, these days journalism makes for a tough living.

Even so-called ‘successful’ types make little money, at least compared to people of similar seniority in related industries. It’s a hard trade, with internet scribes snapping at your heels, everyone offering to work for free, and few people confident about the industry’s long-term existence. Just thinking about it is depressing.

But once I was done offering the usual disclaimers (the work is its own reward; think of the job as vocational etc), I did suggest a narrow gateway to lucre. There is still a way to make a good living in journalism: build yourself a career off the back of hate.

If you are happy to be publicly reviled, by putting forth unpopular or nasty opinions in the pages of newspapers or on television or radio, the pickings are inordinately rich.

Building your career off the back of hate is like taking the elevator to the penthouse suite while watching your cohorts struggle as they climb endless fleets of steps, laden down with rock-filled backpacks and potentially the weight of their cursed integrity.

The most obvious example of hate-journalism-fuelled celebrity in recent years is Katie Hopkins, the controversialist who regularly pops up on huge TV shows to poke fun at people for anything from their weight to their background.

In the States Ann Coulter is her most obvious counterpart, while Julie Burchill has also made a successful living from hate-following reading.

But there are many other journalists who are less obvious examples of hate-generators, but who are nonetheless hired to make people spit out their Shreddies of a Sunday.

I won’t give such media commentators further attention by naming them, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been reading the papers calmly on a Sunday when a friend or family member will interrupt me to talk about something terrible they’ve just spotted.

“Read this!” I’ll be told. “It’s terrible drivel. You must read it. Instantly!” So there we all are, anxiously flicking through pages to find the article we can all be appalled by and condescending about.

Meanwhile, the money-crunchers are sighing in relief, that we’re still paying out good money to read their newspaper that contains the shoddy article, and be offended. You have to wonder who the true mug in this game is.

Not only do we ‘hate-read’, we also hate-follow these journalists on Twitter, rant about them on Facebook and give them the oxygen of publicity at every opportunity. Our hatred is, in itself, a peculiar form of worship.

Madonna summed up this conundrum well recently on Instagram, with a picture with lettering that stated simply: “If you don’t like me and still watch everything I do: Bitch, you’re a fan.”

In recent months, rulings passed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland have meant there is even more scope for this brand of trolling journalism to succeed.

With the gay marriage referendum due in May, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has encouraged programmes to provide balance. So if you have a commentator on the radio arguing in favour of gay marriage, producers must locate a commentator who will argue the opposite point of view, even at the risk of putting forth wounding views on gay people.

The hope is that at least some of those people genuinely hold those opinions, and are not offering them up in a cynical effort to generate cash for new cars and coats. But it’s hard to know.

“Do you think he still believes his own opinions?” one friend asked me recently with regard to one journalist. “His opinions are so hateful – could he really mean them?” Whether he does or doesn’t, the healthy pay-cheque attached must be nice.

If you are happy to be hated, there is a very good career waiting for you in journalism.

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