In My Opinion: Simon Walton: Is productivity crushing creativity?

WE live in an one-strike culture. Not three. It’s less like baseball and more like a village cricket match. You’re at the crease, filling in time between rounds, and up trots James Anderson, filling in time between Test matches. One wrong move and you’re back in the pavilion, for good.

Enough, though, of cricketing metaphors, which will come as a relief to those unfamiliar with the current darling of pace bowling, and indeed to those for whom the last few lines have been unintelligible.

Sorry, it’s what we used to call creative writing.

It’s not the sort of thing that goes down well, in these days of conservative clients and overworked editors.

‘Keep it simple if you want to keep your job’ is the rather depressing order of the day.

Put one foot wrong, just once, and you’re out. Yes, there’s a dozen contradictions to that rule, but among us real people, doing real jobs, in the fragmented, outsourced, freelanced world of media, that’s the reality.

It’s easier than ever to be published. We all really can fulfil that aphorism of a book in every one of us.

It’s just that, in most cases, that’s exactly where those tomes should remain.

Even though we’re all actively encouraged to put everything in the public domain, from first drafts to message lists, there’s less and less moderation, and more and more acceptance of quantity over quality.

We all like to have a thousand songs on our mobiles, and a hundred channels on our TVs, and overlook the technical drawbacks that squeeze all that data into our pockets, and dearth of creativity that fills those airwaves.

Consequently, we confuse reaction with interaction, and damnation with debate. Those of us bold enough to speak out, invariably face a digital lynch mob.

As consumers, we’re ready to take in whatever is placed before us.

I know I’m guilty of spending more time reading comments than stories, who isn’t? The consumer is further away than ever from the journalistic checks and balances that made great writing great. Without the whistleblowers and undercover subterfuge, I doubt we’ll ever read any serious investigative journalism again.

How would Woodward and Bernstein have broken the Watergate story in the digital age, when reporters are told to tweet first, write later?

Never mind the legal implications. To my mind, prosecuting social media is like jailing a music hall audience for shouting ‘get off’.

It’s just the rubbish that’s out there – the so-called ‘citizen journalism’. It’s just shorthand for the inexperienced and untrained. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wouldn’t have open-heart surgery from a ‘citizen surgeon’.

We’re left with the prospect of truly creative talent being forced out of the industry. A combination of marginalised employment, less regard for quality, and less time to produce it.

There’s a wider audience than ever, but a consumer base that couldn’t care less whether facts are checked or grammar correct. With the quality Press pleading for us to support quality journalism, at the same time as asking us to follow their digital wordbites, the proverbial ‘writing is surely on the wall’.

When quantity is the only game in town, there’s little chance of finding quality ever again. If stepping out of line means instant and permanent banishment, who is ever going to take the risk? I can’t think of anyone, can you?

These are not the New Dark Ages, but, right now, they are quite dim.

Simon Walton describes himself as an “embittered freelance communications wallah, with a half-empty glass and an attitude to match”.