Just because something is done a certain way, and has been ever thus, doesn’t necessarily mean it makes any sense or is justified. Traditions, conventions, formats, and so forth, are important, of course, but every so often it’s worth just stepping back from something, looking at it as though for the first time, and checking that we’re happy to go on with it. Now, this somewhat overblown introduction might lead you to think I have some socio-political point to make today; unfortunately, what you have started reading is actually your latest lesson in modern language usage. Notebooks open, please, and draw a nice neat margin with your pencil and ruler. I want to talk to you about adjectives. Specifically, the adjective ‘political’, and its place in the job titles of journalists in the British media.
Isn’t it peculiar that convention dictates that one who writes or broadcasts on the subject of politics is a ‘Political Correspondent’? I have the greatest respect for the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Andrew Marr, Nick Robinson et al, and of course one couldn’t question their knowledge and understanding of politics as their specialist subject, but is it really correct to call them ‘political’? Their role, as commentators and reporters, is surely to be anything but political. We need them to exhibit neutrality, to be part of the Fourth Estate, the onlooker without bias. The adjective is misplaced, misleading. We need to know their area of interest, yes, but that can be achieved with a simple noun; what we want, actually, is a plain old ‘Politics Correspondent’.
And the most bothersome aspect of this is that no other journalist is afforded the flattery of an adjective. Every other type of correspondent or editor is given just a noun to indicate their territory. A ‘Sports Correspondent’ may well be ‘Sporty’ in his spare time, but it’s not his own prowess in football or tennis or curling that we care about, merely his ability to report on that of other people. It would be utterly absurd to use the adjective. Unthinkable. And I would argue that there’s an elitism at work here. Political journalism is deemed, among certain old school media, to be more specialist, more heavy-weight than other disciplines; the reporter who talks and writes all day about Whitehall is patted on the back more vigorously as he walks along Fleet Street than he who writes about sport, art or health. The old school news desk sees the Parliament reporter as a political creature in his own right.
Something needs adjusting. I can’t see the political journalist relinquishing his adjective without a fight – or a referendum – so our best bet, if we want to redress the balance and wipe out this elitism is to instate the adjective into all the other job titles. So how about our ‘Sporty Correspondent’, then? Let’s assume his interest in sport from a reporter’s standpoint does actually extend to his own talents with throwing and catching. An ‘Arty Correspondent’ would presumably be one who appeared on screen draped in silk scarves and big earrings. The ‘Religious Correspondent’ would be awfully pious at every opportunity in print or on air. Let’s also introduce the ‘Healthy Editor’, the ‘Educated Reporter’ and the ‘Fashionable Editor’. Such experts, all. Such gloriously specific skills all round.
Obviously, all these titles are ridiculous and could never be used. But, then, in the interest of consistency, and of bringing the political media elite down a peg or two, I’d argue that we must fight for the common noun across the board. Down with ‘political’! Up with ‘Politics’! Oh, look, I’ve set out a little manifesto here without meaning to. Perhaps I am a ‘Political Columnist’ after all…