One of my favorites was about the night of the telex alert. Another was of the wizened old reporter who regaled my then-newbie father with his stories about life as a war correspondent—the toughest part of which, the veteran proclaimed, was having to get up early in the morning.
This rather surprised my dad. What about the dangers of being close to combat, the awful food, the rigors of foot-slogging it across tough terrain, the difficulty of filing copy from remote places, my dad wondered? Not so much, it transpired.
Further inquiry revealed that the old guy hadn’t actually gone overseas with the troops. As the stay-at-home war correspondent for the regional evening newspaper where my father was working, his job was to go down to the nearby dock and get the first copy of the morning edition of the national newspapers as they arrived on the boat from London.
Then he’d have to hot-foot it back to the office and rework what he read for his paper’s readers. The “war correspondent” wasn’t—just as many “journalists” today sadly aren’t. Cutting and pasting what other people have written is reposting, not reporting.
Technology has given the news media a deserved shaking in recent times. With the Internet creating a more level playing field, where anyone can “publish,” the established players are being forced to lose a bit of their sometimes elitist, snobby manner.
That’s a good thing, encouraging more openness and accountability (which, curiously, the media has many times been reluctant to offer itself while demanding it of others).
You don’t have to have a big set-up to have a big impact. We were reminded of that recently with the award of a Pulitzer Prize, the news world’s Oscars, to the family-run, 10-person Storm Lake Times in Iowa.
Their honor also underscores, however, that while you may not need scale, you do need skill.
Even as I welcome the broadening of the journalistic gates beyond the long-established big media players, I still believe that we need people who really know what they are doing to guard them. Not everyone with a smartphone and a computer is a journalist, just as I can walk down the road with a stethoscope around my neck and a pocketful of band-aids, but that won’t make me a doctor.
You’d probably check my medical credentials before letting me treat you. It’s a good thing to also check the media credentials of those we trust to inform us.
One helpful indicator can be how much of their work is original and how much second- or third-hand. If the actual source content is too many steps removed, you’re not really being informed, you’re just playing telephone.
Photo credit: amlusch via Foter.com/CC BY-NC-SA