Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Suspects & Whodoneit? for (Irish) crime, thriller and crime comedy writers: journalists, editors, the media

One group of suspects and potential villains for
crime stories has so far been largely neglected:
editors, journalists and paparazzis.
While every other socially higher standing profession
like the priests and the churches, politicians, judges.
policemen, and so on, had their fair share of scandals
and appear adequately in all the "good books" this is not
the case for the media profession. A grave omission,
isn't it?
And it might also be a new source of income, the new
business model, for quite a lot of journalists who are
getting laid off. All they have to do is write about their
experience as insiders, scandalizing it, add the necessary
amount of money, sex & crime to it and write "paperbacks."
Apart from the opportunity newspapers have to use the
papers to that end. This would be their way of the media
crisis. It is really no wonder readers are vanishing if one
considers how drab they got - and how interesting they
could actually be. It would not easy cost them lots of money
to investigate, nor big expenses would be run up nor other
investments needed. Readers always need something new,
and when it comes to sensations and scandals, something
really surprising. Otherwise people get spoiled, bored and
disappear. Not to mention that advertising revenue, rapidly
dwindling right now, would jump up again and thus everybody
would be happy again.

The absence of some media person as suspicious, dodgy,
maybe even dangerous in TV crime series is THE explanation
why they are getting so boring. Some surprising element
is missing, a surprising twist and the end. That's because
no journalist is getting caught, no editor facing jail for life.
Wouldn't paparazzis make ideal cases as stalkers, for instance?
Wouldn't an editor-in-chief be the ideal character as king-pin
in a drug cartel, a position from which lots is masterminded,
organized, supervised everything kept under control?

One example where a newspaper editor turns out to
be suspicious, maybe even guilty of some heinous crime
in the little town of Lydmouth in the 1950's is in:
Andrew Taylor: Call the Dying

It is a cosy crime set at a time when television sets are
just beginning to be bought and the classical sexual neuroses,
hypocrises and other such related psychological complexes
played a vital part in small town life. The mentioned
newspaper editor is not the main character, just a minor
character. But sufficiently taken on, explored, to make it
nice fictional media critique. For people who just can be
inspired to have a laugh about a media guy.
Taylor has a very dry sense of humour and he can also
understate when necessary superbly.

Whatever they wrote, it was finally used against them:
the libel cases in the McCann case. Here are just a few
of the reports to those:
Madelein McCann: Robert Murat and newspapers

Parents of Madelein McCann accept apology and damages

Tapas 7 in McCann case awarded damages

So, there is no problem sourcing "underlying" material
from actual reality. Someone using or getting inspired by
those libel cases then just needs to have a bit of talent,
dream up characters. A policeman, detective needs to
have a mind of his own when he for instance includes
the media in a crime either as perpetrators straight
away or as associates of crime. One motive, hopes of
financial gains from a case is all evident. And then it is
up to the author how the story unfolds, what is coming to
light in the course of a story. Is it just obstruction of justice
and the investigation that the media people are guilty of?
Or is at a range from parking offenceses (paparazzi photo-
graphers), trespass, complicity to blackmail someone,
sexual exploitation of an occasional "escort" or maybe even
a paying relationship with a druglord. Who knows.

And then there is certainly the possibilty to dig in the
finance crisis and the media complicit in all that.
In the above mentioned McCann libel cases all the lawyers
needed to do gather sufficient evidence was to use newspaper
archives and make copies of it all. Ironically enough, most of
the papers even had online - archives. It couldn't have been
easier for the lawyers.

The same holds true for the media and the finance crisis.
While what they are writing today seems to be the perfect
knowledge, the perfect forecast and prediction something
in the future, all that may look a little bit different when
going back and looking what a paper wrote in the business /
finance section years ago and then go forward towards the
The media are protected by the freedom of speech. Sueing
them for false information or something to that effect may
make it nearly impossible to take them to court successfully.
(It could also be for the reason that nobody so far has even
attempted to do so. In would require a real ace of a lawyer,
in any case.)
But at least in theory it would be very easy to gather really
convincing and definitely enough evidence for such a case.
Mysterious as much of the stock - exchange talk, advice,
and so forth is for most of the consumers, declared laymen
would have absolutely no problem at all in, say a court,
(or reading about in a story). Practically everybody would
understand what sort of mysterious - complex financial
and business writing, including all media frenzy, led to the
financial crisis and the credit crunch.

Not so long ago the papers' property section was full with
expensive properties, all written for people who don't really
need or want to ask about prices, like they would be really
rich oil - sheiks. Interesting was that at times it was in many
cases impossible to tell paid-for PR - articles from estate
agents apart from independently written property articles
about properties. Most of those independent looking articles
included the phone number of an estate agent in all openness.
If only that was not a mistake, albeit a small one.

And they were also big into recommending shares, investment
funds, all sort of financial products. The interesting thing,
the potential nemesis, of everything to do with money and
finance is that afterward one has perfect knowledge. For
example, no problem finding articles about Lehman, Bears Stearns,
and so on years ago and what a certain paper wrote about them
and prophecied (usually with greatest certainty, absolutely
convincing). Every self-declared layman or laywoman just needs
to take a look at those and knows instantly the outcome
(might be quite surprised how easy it is to understand when
doing so, understanding everything in all relaxed ease).
And this is certainly part of the challenge for writers:
to provide the readers with an account what has happened and
what was somehow going on. Kind of a service coming
with the book.

Considering the extent, the sheer extent of the finance crisis
this all calls not just one, but a lot of writers to the task.
In order to have their detetectives and investigators do the
job. Also very much needed. In reality in takes much longer
for the mills of justice beginning to grind, we all know for instance
how the fraud department of the FBI in the USA was down-
sized years ago.

Finally, we come to the question of marketing and selling.
Would books in which the media are criticised one way or
another, editors and journalists stand model as villains
find the approval of the media? Certainly not, one may
assume. Could the media ruin the chances of such books?
Yes and no.
Some longer time ago the Catholic Church was considered all
powerful and they were very much into censuring and damning
books. They did create a lot of problems. But the fact that the
Church was damning a book was time and again reason for its
success, whether it was the condemnation or not. (Quite a few
rather silly, "unworthy" books benefitted from it.)
The same is the case with the media. What really matters, in my
opinion, are the potential readers. And they better be taken
serious, not underestimated. Readers for such books are most
likely to have a mind of their own, are used to use their head,
have a sense of humour and like to have a laugh, occasionally,
about the powers-that-be, at politics and so on. The don't need
any sensation.
Important is in my opinion that the potential is not mislead
about a book. If it is some easy-going fluff, making jokes etc. it
should somehow be told. Creating expectations and betraying
is bad for business.
And, as far as the likely disapproval of the media is concerned,
some discreet hint that a couple of journalists are included in
the suspect / guilty / whodoneit group, that the author is does
not suffer from an authoritarian conscience towards the media,
is a bit respectless, in fact. This might just do the trick, be
enough - and sell the book.

When being critical about the media, one should not forget
those journalists, etc. who are, apart from being occasionally
self - critical, admitting to mistakes, are rightly critical about
the media. Some of the best media criticism is written by
members of that profession. We will introduce some ( more) of
them soon. (So far: Danny Schechter and briefly Jack Shafer).

Very finally, at the very end, an introduction to:
Paul Kilduff: Square Mile (its a link to amazon).

Kilduff wrote four financial thrillers. Square Mile, published in
2000 might provide an interesting look back, at the financial
scene at that time. - And leave the reader wondering what the
hell ever since then.
(We have also introduced Linda Davies on another page of this
blog. She is another great financial thriller writer.)

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