Wednesday 9 March 2011

Things can only get better: Journalism without ego

This is an article I've contributed to TheMediaBriefing after hearing Paul Bradshaw (pictured) making his inaugural lecture at City University. I liked his message to young journalists that they should try and make journalism better. It made me think about my start in journalism, after leaving City, and the contrast between the hardened hacks and young graduates.

When I started on an evening paper a reporter turned to me and said: “You know Jon, there’s no characters left in journalism anymore.”

He then regaled me with the antics of some of the characters, for example:

There was the journalist who scaled the outside of the Manchester Evening News building and knocked on the window.

The result: The chief sub had a heart attack.

The night out when the reporters drew up in a van alongside an innocent member of the public eating a Chinese takeaway and fired off a shotgun. The man dropped his sweet n’ sour and thought he was bleeding to death.

Result: An official police complaint to the newspaper.

Then there was the office outing to see Love Story when the tender death bed scene at the climax of the film was rudely interrupted by a journalist shouting out an unbelievably obscene remark.

Result: No more free cinema tickets for journalists.

It was a rather macho, beery world where reporters revelled in their outsider status. They shared the Millwall mantra: “Everybody hates us and we don’t care.”

It was somewhat threatened by the arrival of graduates who took their inspiration from All the President’s Men and wanted to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.

I was reminded of this dichotomy listening to Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture Is Ice Cream Strawberry? at City University.

Paul urged journalists to get over their egos. “Journalists have always been jacks of all trades, and masters of none. Now that the masters of each trade can publish themselves, it is our connections across differing worlds that is our strength. But to maintain those connections we need to put people before stories, and get over our egos.”

He ended his lecture: “Technology – whether the internet, newspapers or the English language itself – is a tool. It does not want to do anything. It does not want to be free. It does not want to make you stupid. “You choose the flavour of the ice cream. You have the power, and the responsibility that comes with it. Take that responsibility – and make journalism better.”

It was the “make journalism better” bit that got me. Graduates can have the idealism knocked out of them while trying to conform to the “shock, horror” agenda of newsdesks.

But when you look at the comments about the press on Twitter, or by bloggers who know their patch or people who have been written about in the media, you realise there is no respect for poor or over the top journalism. It is reviled and ridiculed.

The traditional business model for journalism is battered. If it is to be repaired or reinvented by a new generation of journalists it seems sensible to bin some of the hackneyed old ways, try and make it better and, dare I say it, more respected.

There is just one thing.

If journalists are to have no ego, what happens to Piers Morgan?

Pic:Jon Slattery

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