Smashing the news hierarchy, two student journalists at a time.
A little over a fortnight ago, a journalist had the audacity to call Craccum with a “news tip” and then berate us for our content, or what he termed: “long-winded woke shit”. The implication, according to the sneer in his voice, was that anything other than breaking news, or straight reporting, wasn’t worthy of the same status as “real journalism”.
And while we laughed in his face (buddy, we’re a student magazine, it’s not that deep) there’s no denying that—at least within media spaces themselves—breaking news, political journalism, financial news, and hell, even sports journalism, tends to carry more “prestige” than journalism that covers arts, culture, and lifestyle. Why is that?
Here at Craccum, it’s no secret that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we’ve got zero interest in appealing to elitist tastes. We celebrate Swifties, we defend our Tumblr-blog days, and we unashamedly admit our love for Twilight; all while interrogating the social constructions of these cultural phenomena.
So, perhaps that random journalist was right—Craccum (and probably most other student mags) does specialise in “long-winded woke shit”. Maybe it’s time we listened to “hard” news snobs who claim that the “fluff” of “soft” news has eroded journalism’s function as the fourth estate? But just what is so wrong with “soft” news, and should other forms of news really hold a higher status?
In recent years, we’ve seen a reclamation of all things feminine. Think the rise of hyperpop; Greta Gerwig’s Barbie; the recasting of Y2K tabloid darlings; fashion and its obsession with hot, hot pink; and the era of the bimbo. In the process of this reclamation, we’ve collectively had to interrogate our “not-like-other-girls” phase and examine why we rejected femininity in the first place. And on closer examination, the social derision of boy-band stans, fanfiction, “chick-flicks”, and the colour pink are all rooted in the same prejudice: good ol’ fashioned misogyny.
You could argue that the “news hierarchy” rests on this same patriarchal worldview.
Women who came of age on the cusp of the Millenial and Gen Z generations were practically raised on the teat of “soft” news. In the naughty aughts, where our tender consciousnesses were just beginning to grasp complicated concepts like “identity” and “womanhood”, we would coalesce on the magazine section at the supermarket for guidance. Teen lifestyle magazines like Creme and Girlfriend, although painfully problematic at times, also provided young women with safe spaces. Within these glossy pages, the issues that seemed all-consuming to us at that point in life—sex, friendships, what to wear to the school ball—were taken seriously, and given room to be discussed. These mags were especially important considering that the interests of teenage girls have been historically dismissed and mocked. For young women who grew up wishing they had strong “sisterly” or feminine figures, these magazines were also invaluable in providing guidance on issues that mattered to them. Agony Aunt advice columns on navigating friendship issues, or zapping away pimples, were important avenues that validated the struggles of adolescence—an isolating and turbulent period for many.
Without getting too far into the realm of gender studies, lifestyle content in general does tend to be coded “feminine”. Historically, the masculine environment of journalism has limited women journalists to writing on “domestic” or human interest stories. Despite the event of universal suffrage and the second, third, and fourth waves of feminism, there’s a lingering view in the Western cultural consciousness that the domestic realm is a woman’s domain, and the public is a man’s. It’s no coincidence that the “news hierarchy” follows this same order: breaking, political, and economic news is “hard”, while lifestyle content is “soft”.
But when both forms of news are held to a high standard, they essentially fulfil the same function: both hard and soft news are a gateway into important sociocultural discussions. An economist writing an analysis of the stock market provides commentary on economic conditions and their impact on the population; Craccum’s article on ‘Hot Girl Walks’ provides commentary on the pandemic’s impact on the population’s mental and physical wellbeing. Of course, the tone and style of these two pieces would be markedly different, but it’s true that even the most lighthearted and frivolous of lifestyle pieces can have a serious issue at their heart.
The representation and advocacy of people’s lived experiences is precisely what makes lifestyle content and “soft” news so valuable. Especially given that young people are often shut out of the traditional news cycle, as a student mag, it’s vital for Craccum that we publish pieces that reflect the experiences of students. This not only gives young people a voice, but our lil mag, and other student publications, serve as important bastions and shapers of student and youth culture.
“Hard” news is often praised for helping journalism to fulfil its role as a watchdog, while “soft” news gets criticised for being too opinionated. Although the question of whether the news can ever be truly objective is a whole article in and of itself, the opinion pieces that encompass “soft” news gives journalists the opportunity to unapologetically express their opinions. Opinions create conversation. They offer readers alternative perspectives to pressing issues, which are central to nurturing healthy public discourse. Also, who doesn’t enjoy having a geez at people’s hot takes on the best vending machine snacks? If that doesn’t scream public interest, we don’t know what does.
As crucial as “hard” news is in informing audiences about important political developments and international events, let’s be real, it’s usually depressing as fuck. During Covid, many of us experienced the negative impact of consuming too much breaking news on our mental health. The 24-hour news cycle’s provision of never ending headlines can trigger doomscrolling spirals, where people compulsively read or watch extreme amounts of negative news in an attempt to “soothe” feelings of anxiety and stress. However, “soft” news provides readers with much-needed comfort and entertainment in the overwhelming mass of catastrophic headlines.
What’s so wrong with entertaining content anyway? Without “soft” news, journalism would just be reiterations of events that have occurred, and where’s the flavour in that? For many of us in degrees that assign hundreds of pages of reading each week, sometimes all we want to read is something silly and goofy to take our minds off the stress of uni. And there’s absolutely nothing criminal about that.
So, the next time your Comms professor condescendingly mocks “soft” news, or you read some bitter Facebook comment lamenting “what happened to REAL journalism?”, just know that here at Craccum, we’re always going to be publishing (and defending) the “long-winded woke shit” you know and love.