Hashtag: You’re From the Seventies, but I’m a Nineties Bitch

0 Posted by - 11/04/2013 - Blogs

Earlier in the week I attended a guest lecture by an award-winning journalist.

I was really looking forward to the lecture, namely because it’s always refreshing to listen to someone who has achieved so much in the industry.

The journalist began his talk by saying that if he was ever to teach an introductory journalism class, he’d first ask the students to raise their hands if they want change the world.

“I’d tell everyone who raises their hand to leave,” he said with a smile.

Sitting at the table across from him, I couldn’t help but wince.

On one hand, I get where the journalist was coming from.

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Reporters are there to report – they don’t exist to jam their opinions down people’s throats.

Furthermore, there is nothing special about being a journalist. Arguably, anyone can be a reporter if they want to (though whether or not they do it well is another question entirely).

But on the other hand I thoroughly disagreed with this man’s worldview.

In reporting on an event, a journalist cannot help but change the world.

Journalism educates, holds politicians to account and assists individuals in formulating or re-evaluating their opinion.

It doesn’t matter how balanced or objective you try to be. (I would even argue that there is no such thing as objective reporting – this is a terribly idealistic way of thinking and ignores the way the real world operates.)

To presuppose that there is a clean, natural break between ‘journalistic’ reporting and more opinionated writing is also a flawed concept.

It fails to accept the largely audience-driven demand for more integrated, personal and immersive styles of reporting in which audiences are active participants in the creation of news.

Truth is not simply handed down, but negotiated between sender and receiver.

As young journalists we are instructed to use social media to converse with our audiences, and to let them know us as individuals.

Truth is more contested than ever before, and people understand how news is produced.

To ignore these developments in journalism is both naive and unhelpful.

What really annoyed me, though, was this man’s assumptions about university students.

He remarked that the industry had “become a lot more elitist”, and rife with reporters who assume audiences are intellectually unable to navigate truth by themselves.

This, he said, is because of “privileged” students entering the field.

He even went as far to ask if anyone’s parents worked in a trade or through manual labour. To his surprise – and my delight – more than half of the room put their hands up, including myself.

The idea that journalism’s humble aims are being trampled on by over-educated, middle-class students is ridiculous.

It is also a flawed argument, because it ignores the fact that more and more Australians are being university educated. (How dare people grow up to be well-rounded, critical thinkers!)

Placing the blame on the younger generation is also stupid and irrational. It’s not our fault that these days entry-level positions in the industry require you to have a bachelor degree.

If anything, it was the guest lecturer who was privileged. He was lucky enough to live in a time when all he had to do was apply for a job straight out of high school.

Nowadays aspiring journalists have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education and wade through countless hours of unpaid work – all without knowing whether or not they’ll get a job at the end of it.

We all know that journalism as an industry is seeing massive upheavals. Not a day goes by where it doesn’t turn a critical eye on itself (just earlier this week a Fairfax journalist was fired for writing an opinion piece for Crikey).

Journalists are losing their jobs. The industry is losing money, and graduates aren’t having much luck getting a foot in the door.

To say that the current media landscape is a turbulent environment would be an understatement.

With all this in mind, the last thing we need is for older journalists to stir up animosity between those who entered the industry with a trade certificate and those who are entering it with a bachelor’s degree.

We all have a job to do here. For heaven’s sake let’s get on with it.

Broede Carmody

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3 Comments

  • Anon 13/04/2013 - 2:37 pm

    Interesting piece Broede, you raise some good points.

    However, I think your comments on the guest lecturer say more about yourself then the senior journalist.

    Like you, I’m also a young journalism student; but where we differ is that I actually have respect for older journalists.

    I have the fortune of working in a major newsroom and it is there – not the classroom – where I learn the most about journalism.

    To be frank, I wouldn’t be in the process of getting my journalism degree if there wasn’t the sudden need for it. Journalism is one of those industries where you learn more in practice than theory. Surely you would agree with that.

    At school I’m taught these grand ideals about how I should always stay on the utmost moral high-ground but then you enter the real world and guess what? It’s not so peachy.

    While it’s true we learn a lot of important journalistic skills, they’re not exclusively learnt through uni and they are definitely not worth the $15,000+ price tag. In fact, Senior journos have assisted me more than any journalism teacher (it helps that they have actually worked in a newsroom – there – I said it)

    Actively working as a professional journalist for 25+ years gives senior journos an edge, they’ve seen a lot and they know what they’re talking about. They don’t need to know how to operate a Twitter page in order to have a complex understanding of the industry.

    You say the guest lecturer made assumptions about university students. While he didn’t describe us in the nicest of ways, they’re still characteristic of journalism students.

    I know exactly what he’s talking about when he uses words like “privileged” and “over-educated, middle-class students” to describe us because to a varying extent that’s exactly what we are. I see these kids at uni, I see them interning. They sure as hell exist.

    Upon entering the workforce, it’s up to us to word up, know our place in the hierarchy (we all start from the bottom) and get realistic. That’s how you get rid of the stereotypes. Not by ridiculing the very people we will become in 30 or so years (if there is still a place for us at that point).

    My closing advice? Respect your elders.

    • Soren Frederiksen 14/04/2013 - 9:54 pm

      Oh, who goes anon on the internet?

      Much as I like to hang shit on the well-cashed, privately-schooled vegetarians in the course, the condescending silly of this masked man is not something I can abide by.

      Deepthroat, or whatever, did you read Broede’s piece?

      He says three things, basically: a) ideals aren’t news-cancer; b) objectivity is an ideological construct; c) boys club “anti-elitism” can be a bit silly.

      How did you get a hodge-podge of “old people are stupid” and “degrees are da bomb”?

      Broede disagreed with the guy on a couple things, didn’t like being characterised as a namby-pamby young idiot and raised his voice in a calm and considered manner. That’s not failing to “actually have respect for older journalists,” that’s raising reasonable objections.

      “Respect” doesn’t mean “to kiss-ass.” The old bloke clearly knows a couple things about being a news-man, and Broede doesn’t really dispute that.

      And I don’t think Broede is dismissing the value of practical experience, nor mistaking his Bachelor’s for a gold-plated “I’m fucking terrific.” No, he’s just written a piece whinging second-years can’t get insurance for internships (so can’t get said experience), and mentions entry-level journalists now need degrees (so he’s getting one).

      The classroom is something we sit through to get to the newsroom. Are the debt and study and days without a cash a privilege? I know I’d much rather be in a job than a bachelor’s degree.

  • Alex Penman 15/04/2013 - 1:47 am

    Spot on — his question shouldn’t be “Do you want to change the world?” but “How do you want to change the world?” No matter how hard you try avoid it, your actions will have an impact on the lives on others. They will in any profession, or life. For journalists, whose actions unfold in words, pictures, videos and everything else that goes into filling the space in the media, a much larger than normal potential to shape and change the actions of others exists.

    Good journalism will inspire all sorts of good; bad (and lazy) journalism will do the opposite. If we couldn’t change the world, the job would be a walk in the park.