On the Media’s Superiority Complex – Or: Why all Journalists are kind of As*holes pt.2

Ah shit, here we go again!

Some time ago I wrote about how many (not to say all) journalists are assholes in one way or another. After I published the article, many old acquaintances, friends and colleagues in the industry either agreed with me or were simply amazed at how I could dare to make such a statement (not least from the protagonist of my story). As the second reaction clearly prevailed in my Instagram DMs, I began to doubt myself. Was I exaggerating? Had I become sensitive and my interlocutor had no intention of treading on my toes? Couldn’t the simple behaviour of an asshole be applied to an entire professional group?

And indeed it can. After recent events (about which I will say a few words in a moment) it has become even clearer: all journalists are kind of assholes. 

Again, I need to back up a bit to give context to this article. I work as a freelance journalist and editor. But because a writer’s job is rarely financially stable enough with the help of just one media outlet, I also work for a PR agency. I like to call it my “big girl job”.

I like my PR job. It’s helped me broaden my horizons and look at the media world from more than one perspective: combining fashion journalism and lifestyle PR has given me the best of both worlds and insights into the industry that I wouldn’t have got from either side alone. 

Of course, all that glitters is not gold and my professional life has its downsides. Or big projects: which brings me to the beginning of this story. For my PR job, we organised a big event for an even bigger client. And of course you can’t miss the press at such an event.

You’d think journalists would have gone into withdrawal since Corona, because there’s no money or capacity in the business for events of this magnitude. You’d think they’d be clamouring for a place on the guest list. You’d be wrong.

Although many members of the media are happy to come to the event itself and even prefer to be on the guest list, they don’t like to do anything in return for the invitation, such as a bit of reporting. I need to explain this: Of course journalists don’t have to do anything for such invitations. But a little quid pro quo is appreciated. After all, the whole business is about give and take. 

Well then: As our guest list grew, I wrote to an old friend who works and writes for a very big “very cool” magazine. He writes a lot about music and audio himself, so it was a match made in heaven. My emails were ignored. Typical, in a way. I could have left it at that, our guest list was already well filled. But my ambition got the better of me. I pulled out my phone. Instagram DMs were too much of a booty call for me, and who checks their LinkedIn messages? So the only option: WhatsApp. I didn’t want to bombard him with a direct call. I wanted to introduce myself in a sociable way.

My WhatsApp message was friendly. With typical phrases like “hope you’re well” and “let’s meet for coffee sometime”. After all, I had known him for a few years. Even if our recent encounters have been limited to the typical writer’s tete-a-tetes. I appreciated him and his work. And he appreciated mine, or so he said. 

His reply was prompt. He was not stingy with fake friendly phrases either, and assured me that we could talk on the phone again sometime. After all, he was curious about what I was doing now.

I was a little proud, after all the magazine he works for has a reputation for not responding to such requests. I quickly sent him a message back, casually expressing my excitement about our upcoming phone call. 30 minutes later my phone rang.

For a good seven minutes, we literally threw expressions of happiness at each other, how nice it was to finally talk again and how curious we were to see what the other one was up to. He was always looking at my Instagram Stories and I was always on the go – professionally, of course. I could hear the mischievous grin in his voice. But then again, I’m professional enough to see past such high points. 

I used his comment as a hook for the real reason for the call. I briefly explained the concept of the event. Followed closely by how nice it would be if he or a colleague dropped by. I call this the PR sandwich. You start with the basic information, follow it up with flattering statements and end with the fact that you would be even happier to have some press coverage. Annoying, but it usually works. Not so this time. After my brief monologue, I heard a laugh at the other end of the line. My professionalism had given way to indignation.

A little shocked and a little angry, I asked him through gritted teeth and with all the kindness I could muster what he would think of my idea. He cleared his throat. Perhaps my question had not been as friendly as I thought. With a grotesque mixture of amusement and astonishment, he told me how strange he found it that I was now doing PR. He must have heard my frown, because he followed it up with, “After all, you always wanted to be in fashion. 

Now it was his turn to do his monologue. For what seemed like an eternity, he explained that he loved these events, but that he couldn’t promise me any coverage, and that while he was generally available for interviews, he didn’t really know if he had the capacity to be there. He concluded by saying that “the job of a PR consultant is kind of unnecessary” because “you would rather be invited by the brand itself. Rather than by an agency.” 

Such statements show that some journalists (or those working in the media in general) have a big problem with being arrogant.  I am still not denying the feeling of superiority that hits me from time to time. Nevertheless: No one likes smug know- it-all friends, relatives or co-workers who believe their knowledge and beliefs are superior to others. But people like him are not unique in journalism.

Communications technology has widened the cultural space. We now have thousands of specialised magazines, newsletters and websites catering to every social, ethnic, religious and professional clique. You can build your own multimedia community, where every magazine you read, every cable show you watch, every radio station you listen to confirms your values and reinforces your sense of your own rightness. It is possible, perhaps inevitable, that you will slip into a solipsism that allows you very little contact with people who are very different from you. But within your enclosed sphere you will feel very important. This is not all bad: in this segmented world, everyone can be successful. If you believe, as I do, that people are motivated primarily by the desire for recognition rather than the desire for money, you have to applaud, at least a little. 

But you don’t have to be an asshole about it.