The other day, on one of my many social visits to hospital, I came across a chap, on the hospital entrance path, using one of those leaf blowers. It was a scene made to be, begging to be, turned into a metaphor. And many sprang to mind: he was the good and faithful social democrat politician clearing the path for the poor and needy to enter the public hospital; he represented the shocking waste of energy in modern society; he was part of the loss of the natural world, the leaves of introduced deciduous trees being swept from the concrete; he was the forces of civilisation holding back the chaos that always threatens. All good metaphors, fine for another blog, but unworthy of the high standards of Watermelon.
For me he was Journalism with a capital J. He seemed to be not so much clearing the leaves as rearranging them into patterns, his penetrating stare was seeing into cracks and crevices, and spaces between paving stones and palings, as he turned the blast of fresh air onto stray leaves here and stray leaves there, making a pattern on one side, and then sweeping back to make a pattern on the other, and then back again to rearrange them into a new order.
This was the world of heroic journalism, of Woodward and Bernstein, and, well, Bernstein and Woodward. Investigative journalists peering into the dark corners of politics, blowing fresh air into smoke-filled back rooms, bringing patterns to our attention from what had seemed merely a few random political events as unconnected as leaves falling from a tree.
Then the improbable image of Woodward sweeping leaves (Carl Bernstein yes, Bob Woodward no) shattered before my eyes as I thought of modern journalists. Those bright-eyed young things, eyes on the eventual prize of “breakfast tv presenter”, happily attending Abbott media stunts; “interviewing” random pedestrians for their thoughts on climate change; thrusting microphones at people involved in court cases; salivating over the tears of parents of missing or dead children; running UFO stories seriously.
And I realised that the world of journalism had turned upside down. That modern journalists were no longer carrying intellectual leaf blowers to add to the sum of public knowledge, and refine the art of political discourse. Instead they now carry vacuum cleaners, which suck information out of the public mind, that extract knowledge and leave it in a dust-filled bag in the garbage, that leave the public less-informed than they were before a “story” is presented. That instead of creating patterns from apparently random events, they turn obvious patterns into disconnected moments so that the public can no longer see the connections. Fallen leaves mount up in drifts, clog drains, trip pedestrians, smother gardens. The fallen leaves from our politics clog up our parliament, damage good government, destroy the chance that elections can represent the will of the people.
Modern journalism sucks the life out of public discourse, and there seems no way to reverse the settings on their behaviour.
I miss the old journalists, when autumn leaves start to fall.