Journalists Are Not Your Friends

Quote: Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed - everything else is PR

I was in a group of journalists when someone asked us what we thought of this statement. Someone jumped in to talk about sharing people’s stories and how print is dead. Absolutely, journalism is about sharing stories. But it’s a ‘nice to have’ factor.

Then the group received my rant.

It is a journalist’s job to make people uncomfortable ie. to print (or publish, whatever the appropriate broadcasting medium is at the time) what someone does not want printed. The act of doing this makes people and organisations accountable for their actions. The very early journalists – the people who announced the news in the public square in Ancient Greece and Rome – were informing the public of what the democratic government at the time were doing, and later the church, economic and legal powers (these sectors which basically controlled people’s everyday lives through governance, class and the power that faith held in society…and still does to some). Also see the Four Estates (now evolving into the Five Estates thanks to the proliferation of citizen journalism such as Wikileaks and the like)

SO…

If a journalist investigates issues, questions high-ranking people’s actions, motivations and history and holds them accountable in the public jury that is the media then the journalist is doing her job. If she makes people angry because she makes them uncomfortable, she is doing her job. If she is threatened with jail, defamation, the loss of her job – by her own government – then she is probably doing her job VERY WELL.

If the journalist simply reports the news, repeats information from government, corporations and the powers that be without questioning what is put before her, then she is failing as a journalist. She is simply pleasing the people in power, and improving her own PR. This applies to journalists, editors, producers and media outlet owners.

This, I believe is a journalist’s primary job, and is what I think Orwell was trying to say. It is a principle that holds up no matter the platform or publishing genre.

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PC Mag Australia – Protecting Games From the Law

Games_Law_PC_Mag_AusAt the moment, United States copyright legislation prevents consumers from developing video game emulators and compatible servers in order to play games that are no longer supported by developers. These anti-circumvention provisions or Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) also prevent academics and museum curators from preserving such games for study and display of our cultural heritage.

Organisations like the Electronic Frontiers Foundation are fighting for the copyright laws to actually make sense, rather than just to protect the publishers.

Read more at PC Mag Australia.

PC Mag Australia – Science Busking for Research Funds: Crowdfunding in Australia

Science_Crowdfunding

As Australian science researchers struggle more and more for funding, they have been increasingly turning to crowdfunding for support – and actually reaching their goals.

We sat down with Dr Mel Thomson, a microbiologist who has run two successful Pozible campaigns to discuss why crowdfunding is now a viable option for scientists to fund their research projects.

Read more at PC Mag Australia.

You Don’t Need to be an Extrovert to be a Good Journalist

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I have never been an extrovert. For a period I managed to function as an ambivert: able to take on the spotlight in key moments. I played a lead role in the school musical, I was school captain, I entered the marketing profession and became an account manager which required constant interaction with clients. But I always needed time to recharge by myself, in a quiet setting (and I always suffered from performance anxiety, needing to psych myself up to go on stage or make a phone call).

Like I said, I functioned that way for a while. But I did burn out. It wasn’t me.

In recent years I have been able to embrace the fact that I am in fact an introvert. I don’t like being in the spotlight. Crowds bother me. Group conversations intimidate me. I’m terrible at small talk, but I come out of my shell when I am passionate about something. I get pretty consumed with things like hobbies and my work. I really like my zone. It’s comfy here.

So when I go to networking events I usually start questioning myself. Why am I trying to be a journalist when I can’t handle an industry networking event? The speakers are talking about getting on the ground and building relationships with everyone you meet to find the stories but I can’t even start a conversation with my local barista.

I’m here to say: You don’t need to be an extrovert to be a good journalist.

It does of course depend on the kind of journalism you are doing. With breaking news, on-the-ground reporting is necessary. Talking to locals is a must. But in features, long-form and especially investigative writing you can work your own way. Thanks to the internet you can talk to people anywhere, anytime (once you check their credentials).

These days I do my best work online. I can research and find the best person to talk to through my contacts on social media and my amazing search skills and using email or Twitter, line up an interview for a time and place that suits all parties (rather than catching them on the spot). I have conducted interviews via phone, Skype and email – and in person of course.

Yes, the first few interviews were nerve-wracking but once I realised that a comfortable interview subject makes for an easy interview, I understood that I had to make things easy for myself too in order to get the best possible final result: a bunch of great quotes and a wealth of information on the subject matter.

In the beginning I had been trying so hard to “do journalism” the way I had been trained that I was stressing myself out and honestly, producing crap. It took me a little while to realise I had to do it my way but once I did figure that out the quality of my work improved significantly, my commissions started coming in and my contacts were happy to stay in touch for repeat tips and interviews.

You still need to be able to talk to editors. Some people meet them by networking or getting drunk with them. If you’re the introverted type maybe befriend them on Twitter or just outright emailing/calling them. It does call for a little more elbow grease this way but I certainly prefer it this way – I’m sure other introverts would too.

To be a good journalist these are the skills you need:

  • To know what the editor and the readers want to read
  • To be able to research
  • To conduct interviews
  • To write a coherent, objective piece
  • To submit work on brief and on deadline

What is a Journalist?

Image: Todd QuackenbushRecently I was privy to a conversation between some more experienced freelance journalists (more experienced than I am, that is) who were bemoaning the rise of ‘untrained’ writers calling themselves journalists. These writers who were making a living writing for lifestyle publications: travel, parenting, beauty websites and magazines and were daring to call themselves journalists.

Some of these writers had never even studied journalism at university or completed a media cadetship. And with no professional body to enforce regulation or qualification to obtain in order to wear that title (unlike say, an electrician, lawyer or medical doctor): any writer can call themselves a journalist. Can’t they?

After a few rounds of reminiscing about the good old days of media training and paying your dues, someone level-headed finally spoke up and raised the question: is it not the person’s qualifications that count, but what they write about – and how they do it?

What is journalism? Is it restricted to the realm of politics, war and the economy? Is it about conducting research, verifying sources, interviewing, objectivity, ethics and clear communication? Is it about reporting on emerging research, good news stories or local news? What if a celebrity is involved?

Are you a journalist if you write about the best kinds of cocktails, nappies or lipstick? Because even a person with the highest journalism qualifications and a cadetship at The Guardian can write about those things.

The interesting thing is that with recent industry cuts leaving subeditors and journalists without jobs, mid-career professionals are rethinking their own career advice. Many times I have been given the personal advice that I do not need an undergraduate degree in journalism to work in the industry and that in fact, it would be a waste of money and time. The prevailing advice has been to get a degree in a specialty, something you are really interested in, and then work hard on gaining the journalism experience needed to combine the two into a career.

In my case I had two very good English teachers in my senior years of high school who gave me the fundamentals of essay and feature writing. I went on to study marketing and public relations at university (which did include a few journalism topics). After a decade of business writing, copywriting and technical writing I took a diploma of freelance journalism to get an idea of how the industry worked (ie. How to submit to editors and whatnot) and in the meantime wrote on a volunteer basis for a video game website. That was my education in journalism.

And I’m still learning. I read industry textbooks and attend professional development courses. I take on tough assignments that at the start I may feel ill-equipped to handle, but by the end I have learned so much about the trade. I ask questions of my editors and colleagues and I use the MEAA as a resource (of which I am a certified member).

Sometimes I write about video games and consumer technology gadgets and other times I write in-depth reports on trade agreements and funding structures in the science community. But whatever I write, I always approach it with a journalist’s point of view.