Saturday, June 6th, 2020
There’s no certification or licensing to become a journalist. When I attended the Ohio University School of Journalism (since renamed the E.W. Scripps School) back in the dawn of time, there were courses on Communication Law, News Writing, News Editing, Review and Criticism…it was really interesting stuff, and only the practical material has become well and truly obsolete. The blue pencils and the proportion wheels have gone the way of the Linotype. I have a News Editing textbook where literally everything in it is no longer the way it’s done.
I bring all this up to say I am watching with interest (as they say) as journalism of all flavors navigates its way through a global pandemic and a nation filled with protestors on the streets and police violence in the name of “dominating the battlespace” and, oh yeah, a presidential election.
And they’re doing this in an era where media mergers that suit investors have pared newsrooms down to alarming levels and budgets, beats, and the product itself has been pared to the bone.
It’s a time where people find it convenient to blame something called “the media” when they’re really frustrated with a very specific subset.
It’s a hell of a time to do this for a living.
But I think what you have to do, if you do this for a living, is put your head down and set aside any inflated visions of changing the world through your writing and just do the work. Report what you see. Report what you hear. Report when your access is blocked, and report the parts of a very secretive government you may only see the outlines of. Tell the truth. Tell the truths of the people who are being teargassed and clobbered with “less lethal” projectiles.
These are the first principles of reporting. It may not be that highfalutin’ “analysis” or even what some bend the term journalism to encompass, but truth-telling, in sober detail, the who, what, why, when and how of the situation—that remains a way through.
Don’t try and sell your readers on a point of view, don’t ornament your prose with near-hyperbolic adjectives. Don’t say “countless” when crowds can and should be counted. Don’t tell them it’s “horrific”—tell them the events vividly yet without spin and believe me, they’ll come to the same conclusion you would. Don’t talk about your emotional reaction to it—I mean seriously, just don’t bother. There’s too much important story to tell that does not involve you personally.
You can help change the world with transparency, sobriety, precision, and a willingness to just put your head down and do the work.
Best of luck.