There is a particular brand of journalism – is it journalism, by definition? – that seems to exist solely to get a rise out of people. I don’t really understand it. A lot of people get very upset by it and get very angry and I don’t understand that either.
I mean, I get being unhappy when people say super mean things, but when it’s so clearly the reaction they’re hoping to get, why give them the satisfaction?
Maybe I’m missing something.
The Journalist had on their face what was commonly called a ‘shit-eating grin’. That they’d been called to see the Editor was of no consequence. It wouldn’t be the first time and they knew it certainly wouldn’t be the last. In fact, if they weren’t being summoned they might start to think they’d done their job wrong.
It was a curious type of journalism they practised, not the kind that reported on events but rather conveyed an opinion about those events. Not really journalism at all then, but they did get to write in a major newspaper, so it all worked alright for them in the end.
Sure, people didn’t like what they did. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that finding anyone who didn’t think the Journalist was a loathsome and disgusting blight single-handedly dragging down the tone of the rest of humanity would be difficult. Sure, it had been argued – repeatedly, and correctly – that what they produced was of no value and served only to inflict pain and misery for the sake of inflicting pain and misery (and seeing them paid). But the Journalist had never argued differently.
They’d stop writing what they wrote when people stopped paying attention and paying money. That this didn’t seem something that was likely to happen anytime soon was hardly the Journalist’s fault. They told themselves. And unlike most humans they never, ever not-even-for-a-second doubted this. It was what made them so unnatural and so very dangerous. Still grinning fit to punch an orphan they kicked the Editor’s door of its hinges and swanned into their office.
“Fuck you. Your opinions are worthless and your wife deserved to die. You wanted to see me?” The Journalist asked, spitting in the Editor’s face. The Editor was used to this, however, which was why they wore a visor. The wiper whirred quietly as it swept away the sputum and the Editor waited until it was done before responding.
“Yes. There’s been a development,” they said. The Journalist let out a laugh and put one leg up onto the nearest chair, turning their head so their hair billowed out back behind them. Racial epithets, pejorative sexual terms and slurs about mental health were sown into the lining of their jacket and were exposed by this dramatic shift in pose.
“Hah! Are they threatening legal action again? Reported me to the police? Burning me in effigy? Coming here to burn me in person? When will they learn I am not so easily stopped.”
“It’s not that, actually,” the Editor said, delicately. The Journalist’s hair immediately stopped billowing.
The thought that no-one was upset with what they’d written made them deeply concerned for the state of the world. One where people like them could get away with saying what they said for a living was not a world they’d want to live in.
“Well, all of those things are happening, but that’s not why I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to talk to you about this,” the Editor said, reaching back and tugging on a conspicuous gold rope that the Journalist had been deliberately ignoring up until that point under the assumption that they were the most important thing in the room.
With the rope pulled, the equally conspicuous red curtain that hid the rearmost part of the Editor’s office parted, revealing a towering, gleaming behemoth of a computer. It had lights, they winked. It was everything anyone could ever have wanted in a towering computer. The Journalist hated it on sight.
“What is that?” They asked, sneering so hard their face very nearly peeled off their skull. They taped it back into place.
“This is the next generation Offence-o-Tron, the very latest in editorial computational power. It’s your replacement,” the Editor said. The Journalist froze, eyes bulging out of their face and flying around the room for a second or so before reseating themselves. When you lived a life funded by expressing outrage and disgust over everything, it paid to have detachable eyeballs.
“Replacement?!” They spluttered.
“Yes! Quite exciting, really. It’s happening all over. They’re still putting the finishing touches onto the Editor-o-Tron but until then, I’m still here. Not as lucky as you!” The Editor said. The Journalist uttered a brief, soothing litany of deeply offensive comments as they gathered their wits about them.
“But you can’t replace me! I’m irreplaceable! My columns have been the only thing keep this rag afloat! No-one reads for news anymore! They read to be offended by me! I’m worth more than all of you combined!”
“All true! Apart from the bit where we can’t replace you. We can. And have to, really. It’s the twenty-first century! We have computers now. And they’re super good. Check this out…”
The Editor swiveled in their chair and pulled a slimline keyboard away from the body of the Offence-o-Tron on an extendable arm. The Journalist watched, appalled, as the Editor tapped away at the keys.
“Let’s take that recent story for an example. You remember the one! The refugees, the ones who drowned.”
“The ones I said were wasting our water by using it to bloat their dead bodies?”
It had been a very strongly worded article, one the Journalist had been rather proud of. They’d ended it on a rousing note, encouraging the government to bring back capital punishment for everyone who was left-handed or learnt the language of the country they were holidaying in. The accompanying picture had been a photograph of the Journalist urinating on a cardboard cut-out of the youngest dead refugee. Because of course it had been that.
“Yes! Those ones! Oh, people very upset about that! But let’s see what the Offence-o-Tron makes of it…”
With some flourish the Editor finished manipulating the keyboard and pushed it back on its arm while the Offence-o-Tron light up like a Christmas tree, beeping and booping happily to itself as it tabulated and analysed and processed. The Journalist watched it, eyes narrowed. They were narrowed to express doubtful scorn, and also to stop them from popping out again. It was difficult to control.
Not long after the Offence-o-Tron emitted a loud ‘ping’ of satisfaction and a slot set about midways up ejected a printed sheet on which an article could plainly be seen. The Editor ripped the printout away and glanced over it, their face very rapidly turning a distinctly unhealthy colour.
“Oh…oh my…oh that’s vile! I – good grief – ugh…oh no”
They then vomited. Glancing up to the sheet again their eyes widened and it all surged forth a second time, the puddle spreading across the worn carpet. The Journalist moved their feet. Wiping their mouth with the back of their hand the Editor straightened up, eyes watering and a massive smile creasing their features.
“That is a cut above. Oh my! People are going to be so very, very offended by that!”
The Journalist held out a hand for the printout. They weren’t going to do anything as decent as asking for it with words. Please and thank-you were for lesser people. The Editor was aware of this and knew the signs, so passed the printout over without fuss. The Journalist looked at the freshly-created article with mounting concern.
It was good. It was very good. While the Journalist could probably point out a few stylistic failings overall the sheer lack of concern for human well-being and disdain for human feeling was simply staggering. Beautifully offensive. Sublime in its distasteful execution. The machine was flawless.
“Y-you can’t just get rid of me though! A machine can never match a human for being able to produce bigoted material! I have decades of experiencing courting the anger of the public! I know what they go for!”
“There’s no doubting your experience, but there are human limits to your ability! The Offence-o-tron has triple quantum cores! It poses pentuple-dedicated bile production bank! It can be disgusting in ways that don’t even exist yet! I mean, look at this part!” the Editor pointed to a particular point on the printout. They didn’t need to. They both knew exactly what they were talking about.
“I don’t even know what that means! No-one does! But when they do they’ll so angry with us! It’ll be brilliant.”
For possibly the first time in their life the Journalist was at a loss for words. The raw matter of their brain flexed and contorted as they struggled to come up with something – anything – offensive and ugly they could say about the situation. But they couldn’t. This time it affected them personally and nasty things were difficult to come up with.
“It’s not fair…” they mumbled, finally pulling their foot off the chair and staring at the carpet in abject dejection. The worst kind of dejection. They hadn’t felt this bad since they’d had to chose between two equally terrible tragedies to write about in one week, letting one slip away forever unsullied by hurtful words.
The Editor – who had wrapped themselves in a loving embrace about the Offence-o-Tron – stopped licking its casing and turned back to look over their shoulder at the Journalist.
“Chin up! I hear being on the dole isn’t so bad. I mean, you did write all those articles saying the unemployed should be ground up for fertiliser since they’re useless to society otherwise. But you know, maybe it won’t be like that? I’m sure you can find somewhere your talents will be appreciated. You can work a lathe, can’t you?”
The Journalist looked up from the non-encouraging carpet and blinked.
“No, I can’t work a lathe,” they said.
“Oh. Then you’re fucked.”