Wednesday, 1 June 2011

New journalist != old journalist

New journalist does not equal old journalist. But you can be both. You can respect both. And while you do, you can be questioning the nature, repeatedly, of what it is to be a journalist in this modern age.

I call myself a freelance writer. I am not a journalist in my mind, though I suspect if things come to pass as they appear to be the lines of how you view me will change even if the lines for me do not. Because you see, I believe the terminology of old media is now defunct and that we need to redefine them somehow.

Internal discussions this morning involved an ex trad print local newspaper journalist referring to the chap behind The Northerner blog on The Guardian as a journalist. It brought me up short. He isn't. He's a pro blogger in that context, surely? But she doesn't know there are such things - his words are on the Guardian website and therefore he is a journalist.

Can you be a journalist without a qualification? I do not have one and I cannot do shorthand and frankly, am getting along just fine without. I will record and transcribe if I need to, rather than resort to what to me look akin to ancient hieroglyphs. Tech is there to enable me, and I shall take full advantage.

Am I a pro blogger? Well yes, at the moment, based on what has been published so far. But that is about to change, and yet the stuff which people will shortly be reading from me is not journalism either.

You see, in my head, journalists interview people. Journalists investigate. Journalists acquire a story. They do not speak of the things which they already know. And yet by that definition, the things I write of I don't always know and one of the things that I enjoy the most about writing is the impetus to discover and research those things I've been curious about for a while but never found time.

So am I a journalist simply by definition of having some words published which I researched and investigated? Well no because then anyone could become a journalist and journalism is most definitely still a respected profession and quite rightly so.

So does it depend on the website you are published on? Are there certain websites upon which, if your words are featured, there is automatic journalism status bestowed on the person who contributed the words?

Does it depend on time spent per day or week or month writing those words? Do you become a journalist only when you do it full time, even when you are still freelancing?

Or do we need to simply accept that a journalist is what someone is when they construct and contribute articles to traditional media and what we are all doing who are purely digital is something different? Do I believe the quality of my writing is good enough for print? Not sure - that call is someone elses to make at some point in the future, not mine. But personally, really deep down, journalism is the playground the big kids play in, the serious kids, the kids with received pronunciation. It is not a place where working class kids from estates who grew up on the poverty line belong. It just isn't. 

So what, exactly, is it that I do?


  1. My 7yr old grand daughter is a journalist. She writes journals. Constantly. She can't stop herself writing, all her spare time. My brother is editor of a quarterly science journal. He does more reading/editing than writing. He is not a journalist, he's a chemistry professor. But technically I guess he's a journalist as well?

    Anyone who wants to write a book can do so now, and upload it to Lulu, and be a published author. Anyone can write a blog.

    The test is whether anyone wants to read it, and what levels you stoop to for readership? Write a load of tripe and sell millions of copies? Write a science journal and only the brave could read a full page?
    So the eminent professor and the hack, one has dedicated his life to getting something right, one has just used his imagination and twisted a story into a sensation to sell copy.
    which is the journalist? both?

    I guess if you want to write stories you write novels and sell them as such. If you want to be a journalist you just write, but if you want to have the job title we all understand of 'journalist' what you write is labeled by where you publish.
    The grand daughter's writings go in a special box to keep. Some are exceptional, some are rubbish.
    The journal goes on shelves in university libraries to be borrowed by researchers.
    The self published book from Lulu goes on a shelf where you can look at it in awe.
    The tabloids wrap chips, or are handy for lighting the barbie.
    The blogs. now then.
    That is where we are now, and once again you have claimed a big chunk of my evening whereas what the so called journalists have written this week haven't done. They haven't made me think. They haven't made me want to comment. You have. I don't know how you do it. You are one of the best writers I have seen in years.

    The title of 'journalist' has gone downhill, as it is becoming very obvious that many of them either sensationalise rubbish or publish press releases. I have greater respect for many passionate bloggers than anything I have read in the papers lately. The title of 'journalist' is no longer a respected profession IMHO as too many have besmirched it for too long. If you read an article in a newspaper about your specialist subject you will quickly realise the journalist has done very little homework, and although the spelling, grammar and punctuation, wordcount and fonts are ok, the content is crap.

    Do you really care what you are called? Isn't it enough just to Do and Be?

  2. One would hope that journalists aspire to professional standards of integrity and balance. The vast majority of material in print however has been put there by some PR effort with the journalist acting as a mere conduit.

    So many blogs are equally as bad in terms of integrity, spouting lies and deception as fact.

    We are left with no trust in anything, having to research and validate everything.