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Journalism 101: What is journalism exactly?

November 13, 2009

Typical me. I naiively trot and skip and bounce along to the Reuters / Amplified 09’s unconference about Twitter and whether it can save the world or not and spectacularly miss the point.

I went along because they were discussing what the impact of Twitter is or will be or has been on the future of news.

News, I think. That’s journalism. There’s something to report there. I could shoot some video. I could tweet stuff. I could meet other people. I might get some ideas. I must go along.

At least that’s what I was thinking in my pseudo-journalistic brain last week when I booked my ticket. Then I posted a discussion post on the BBC’s College of Journalism networking thing (you’ll need to be a) a BBC journalist and b) working in the College of Journalism to get into that particular club – it’s very select, you won’t get in the back door) and my brain starts filling up with something else.

I’d moaned about a particular news story I’d seen on the internet and in so doing posed the question that there was a serious risk to journalistic values (ie make sure there’s an actual story there to report when you put your news story together) if headlines are written to optimise traffic. In other words, if you write your headlines to grab attention but the pay-off is there’s hardly anything there of substance, isn’t there a seriously negative impact to your audience?

I’d qualified all of this in my discussion post on the CoJo network by saying I was probably being unfairly critical, something I reckoned came easy given that I’d missed the journalist-boat a number of years ago and – frankly – even if I was given a chance to work in a newsroom I probably wouldn’t survive anyway. I’d probably stand in the corner crying into a hanky with some old-hack coming up to me and whispering in my ear how “it’s probably best you run along now Jacob – don’t think you can play with the big boys anymore”

Self-deprecating as the dismissal of how I reckoned I’d be working in a newsroom, the comment did reveal something I’d overlooked. For years now I’ve accomodated a stereotypical view of what kind of a person a journalist is, possibly as a way of explaining to myself why I wouldn’t have been any good at it anyway. It’s almost as though the dismissal of the profession using a stereotypical view was a way of making the disappointment I hadn’t followed up that teenage career aspiration seem less painful.

It was that which prompted me to ignore the main discussion point set by the BBC’s Director of Global News Richard Sambrook at the Reuters unconference. I did try discussing whether or not Twitter could curate journalism or merely fuel with @reutersjeremygaunt and @mrsbunz amongst others but instead wanted a few important questions answered instead: What is a journalist? What is journalism? And what sort of person do you have to be in order to be one?

The resulting piece isn’t want you’d call far-reaching journalism but it does answer the questions for me. Pursuing my original career aspirations doesn’t seem like such an impossible task really.

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