Journalists as activists.

Hemingway

Do journalists report on stories or are they the story? I wonder what they teach in college these days on ‘journalism courses’. Back in the old days to become a journalist you had to complete a cadet-ship. It was much like a giant work experience program where you dutifully followed an older and wiser journalist around and copied his every move. Your bylines would be mercilessly cut to shreds by the sub-editors. You learned how to write a headline and how to present the facts so as to not give the internal legal department any unnecessary work. You would have learned grammar and syntax and how to spell.

But then they decided to make it a degree. Maybe in the beginning the people teaching the degree were journalists, but I doubt they are now. Based on current journalism standards I would harbor a guess that they are teaching future journalists that they are not just reporting the story – they are the story.

An Australian 60 Minutes crew has just been arrested in Lebanon for attempting to kidnap a man’s two children. It seems that not only did they organize someone to perform the kidnapping but that they actively took part in it while they were filming. The only reason the attempted kidnapping took place was because the television crew wanted the story. That’s not reporting no matter which way you spin it. Kind of takes breaking the fourth wall to new extremes.

Lebanon’s main prison doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs. And from all accounts they’re facing twenty years inside the place. I’m pretty sure they’ll hang the cameraman and sound guy out to dry while the producer and the fruit-bat reporter come home to a hero’s welcome.

It is not unknown for journalists to take matters into their own hands. Ernest Hemingway famously formed his very own armed brigade in France in 1944 and was giving the main US force a run for its money. But frankly by that stage he was probably off his gourd having fully committed to his own mystique.

Back in the days of the cadet-ship, after becoming a fully fledged journalist the new boy may have had dreams of becoming an opinion writer. That’s where they probably would have stayed – as dreams. But maybe after 25 years of flogging his guts out he may well have been rewarded with the ultimate reward – the opinion column.

All journalists are opinion writers today. Some disguise it well, some don’t bother disguising it at all. Why disguise something when that’s what being a journalist is all about? It’s not about presenting facts, it’s about what you want people to believe. You want to sell them the truth that you believe in. Your truth is good, the other side is always bad.

And now it’s about actually making the news as well and they weren’t even bothering to disguise that. Which may be too bad for them. The 60 Minutes crew just picked the wrong country. If they’d done it in the Western world I doubt that anyone would have batted an eyelid.

Four or five years ago in Australia when private blogs were beginning to have a real impact there was a concerted push by mainstream opinion writers to denigrate and mock the new upstarts. They had no business writing about these things apparently. Every time the journalists deferred to the ‘authority’ of their degrees. Nobody really believed them then and I doubt anyone believes them now.

If I had a bunch of cash and I wanted to form an internet news organization today, I’d go back to the cadet-ship program. Anyone with a degree, any degree at all, would not be under consideration. Their minds would be too polluted. Universities will only change when industry begets the change. If news organizations refused to hire people with journalism degrees I wouldn’t give those college courses much more than six months before they went the way of the dodo.

Everything goes in cycles. If you’re doing a degree now, in just about anything, I’m sorry to tell you but you’re at the bottom.

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