Bauman on Journalists

Let me continue with scattered (but inspiring) quotes from the interview with Zygmunt Bauman (BTW: check out his two new books, "Liquid Modern Fears" and "Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty", to be published by Polity Press in late 2006 and early 2007). This time some of his comments on the character of journalists, which Bauman offered in the context of my questions regarding his views on the self-presentation of professional journalists as providing the 'social cement' of society, sustaining community and building cohesion.

"Journalists are consciously or subconsciously guided by what they want to write, by which they measure their success, 'headline-able' sentences which fit the headline. If a journalist has this sort of talent he may sort of count on being published on the first page and make a career. If he supplies solid information, but the words he says are dull, not able to be squeezed into a headline, then he is finished. Though, he will still write for a news medium, but not for the New Yorker. But this is a point."

"I read a journalist is working with the idea of reproducing community and providing cement in their minds. Or are they really rushing only towards the latest news and what the action is? [...] So what is he writing towards? That is what I am interested in. I am quite sure that you are right when you are suspecting that they provide cement. But cement is a neutral building material. What you cement does not depend on the quality of the cement itself. It may be a tower block. It could be a mud hut. It could be a new shopping mall. I do not know, all sorts of things. But only when the building is finished you can really say what you have you cemented."

"So the role of journalist is cementing because the communities are not answerable to the prospect of what is happening now. It is only answerable retrospectively if at all. I must try to be honest and confine myself to say what I see is that through these big gazes, my magical representation of reality, journalism is connected to liquid modern life in a sort of reinforcing group. You could say a vicious circle, but that means evaluating so I would like to avoid it. Liquid life prompts journalists to behave in the way they do, otherwise they are kicked out, eliminated, thrown away because they do not fit. On the other hand, by playing this game, journalism reinforces this liquid modern way of life."


One of Bauman's key points in this discussion hinges on the assumption that the 'in-the-moment', instantaneous and immediate nature of liquid modern life prevents one to see the bigger picture (or, in the words of The Big Lebowksi, how it all ties the room together). He takes this argument one step further even, presupposing that there is NO big picture anymore... Only if you are lucky, get really old, and have a chance to settle down, take a step back and reflect, then you may find some kind of meaning - maybe. He questions deliberately to what extent journalists can be seen as both providing a sense of meaning as well as deliberately undermining any consistency, continuity or structure by always focusing on the latest, the newest, the pointillist glory of the unique - the scoop.