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Journalism is too often ruled by emotion

Emotion sells. Beautiful pictures and personal vendettas are therefore often hauled out of the archives by the media. This also happens in the news. This is wrong, thinks Wubby Luyendijk, lecturer in Journalism at the University of Groningen. ‘It’s crazy that ratings are regarded as the measure for quality journalism’.

A good example is the on-going news soap around Rita Verdonk. Since Verdonk was expelled from the VVD parliamentary party by Mark Rutte, she’s appearing all over the news. This is understandable, according to Luyendijk, because it’s a real crisis, ‘but in the first week it was little more than herd journalism. Verdonk was able to put her side of the case in no fewer than three TV programmes on one and the same day. The message was the same everywhere: Rutte is too left-wing, she would do her best to solve the traffic jam problem, and no, she would not leave the party voluntarily. Control of the news was completely in the hands of Verdonk and her spin doctors and a large proportion of the Dutch journalism world followed her obediently.’

Personal vendetta

The problem with the VVD line has been reduced by the media to a row between Verdonk and Rutte, and then blown up out of all proportion. Every tiny detail has been put under a microscope because emotion sells. So where is the quality journalism? Why isn’t anyone enthusiastically researching the question of whether it was all planned in advance, as suggested by VVD member Joshua Livestro in his column in De Telegraaf. And where is the background story about the left and right wings of the VVD, which have clashed with each other ever since the murder of Pim Fortuyn?

Poor journalism

No, instead most of the media prefer to cling to the image that politics in the Hague is torn by personal differences and squabbles over trivialities. NOVA, for example, on the Monday that Verdonk led three television programmes by the nose, desperately wanted its own quote. A camera team went to her home, but were turned down at the garden fence. They then decided to film other media flocking to the scene. Luyendijk: ‘That’s poor journalism.’ Another example is Radio 1, which included Verdonk in a discussion of the Budget on Prinsjesdag, the day of the Queen’s speech. She’d even indicated in advance that she couldn’t comment on the content because she hadn’t read the budget yet. ‘In situations like this the aim is emotion, not the conveying of information’, according to Luyendijk.

Context and content

It goes without saying that the expulsion of Rita Verdonk from the VVD parliamentary party is news, and that has to be reported. ‘But write a clear news report with a good photograph and then search out the broader picture. Was she working to a master plan? What could this mean for the other political parties, and above all, concentrate on the other news as well. The decision concerning the monopoly position of Microsoft, for example, was also far-reaching, but it vanished into the background as a result of the emotional reporting around Verdonk.’ In short: ask critical questions and provide the public with context and content. That’s what makes journalism worthwhile.

Curriculum Vitae

Wubby Luyendijk (1965) is a journalist for NRC Handelsblad. In 2006 she was appointed temporary lecturer in Journalism at the University of Groningen. She teaches modules on Journalism for Bachelor’s students and organizes various work groups for the Master’s degree programme.


Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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