An editor’s homage to real journalists, a dying breed

Things are changing fast and humanity is hurtling towards an unpredictable future. We’re not stable in our lives, professions, societies, cultures. The rhythm of change often leaves us feeling lost and directionless. Despite understandable apprehension about what the new millennium is bringing, humanity seems to be willingly building weaponry with the potential to upend our lives and render us a failed civilisation. We created the internet in the dying decades of the second millennium, and followed it with an even more intrusive and potentially deadly Pandora’s box: social media.

To older generations, the speeding clock of change is almost unrecognisable. Our collective positive minds were supposed to link together in a superpowerful humanity, but we only succeeded in connecting our ids into weapons more dangerous than nuclear and thermonuclear bombs.

In this world in terrifying flux, Real Journalists walk a precarious path between staying true to their ethics and role in society on one side and, on the other, embracing new technology that, theoretically, can help them deliver on their mandate to keep people informed and democracies alive.

But times are tough. The framework that built modern journalism as the Fourth Estate of democracy is melting. What used to be the rule, today is merely optional.

Once, when bad guys got exposed, it was the end for them. Today, it is just the start of another money-making cycle.

Honesty, truthfulness, integrity and incisiveness work less powerfully when the bad guys are shameless and society is confused about its values.

In this earthquakey world, the media should be the remaining spine, strong enough to hold values in place until the storm is over; the voice that can clearly and loudly say, this is good and this bad, and most people instinctively agree.

We should be an anchor in choppy seas, a safe haven in the storm.

And yet. And yet.

With growing alarm, I see more and more of ‘us’ forgetting what we stand for, why we gathered to deliver on our mandate and what role we should be playing.

I put together a few thoughts, in no particular order, to help remind ourselves why we, the remaining media, are still here and why we chose to be journalists, and not reality TV stars:

  • Real Journalists run, face first. Towards fire. Towards trouble. Towards loud and dangerous thunder. Towards despots’ policemen and Nazi stormtroopers;
  • Real Journalists don’t “secure the perimeter” and tweet about their personal bravery;
  • Real Journalists photograph events they cover, not themselves doing it;
  • Real Journalists see and think ahead. When a shot is fired, they brace for the incoming barrage. When careless, cheap, xenophobic words are vomited by a populist politician in trouble, they prepare for incoming hordes baying for the blood of the weak and helpless;
  • Real Journalists are not scared of shouting politicians;
  • Real Journalists do not give up when a spokesperson or source ducks, dives and dodges;
  • Real Journalists join dots, read into trends, and see patterns and nuances behind dodgy business or government press releases;
  • Real Journalists are not stenographers. They know press conferences are only the beginning of the story;
  • Real Journalists always keep their distance when they cover people in power, money or fame – and never cosy up to them;
  • Real Journalists never see themselves as the story. They are never comfortable when put in the centre;
  • Real Journalists read. Long reports, research papers, legislation, forensic reports and court papers take much, much more time to understand, filter and analyse than a tweet;
  • Real Journalists have seen hundreds of careers destroyed on social media;
  • Real Journalists do not accept envelopes of any colour, free lunches, free holidays, clothes, gift baskets or favours;
  • Real Journalists do not write “stories” made up of connected tweets;
  • Real Journalists serve one master: Truth;
  • Real Journalists do not care about how many followers they have on Twitter;
  • Real Journalists do not care about being first, they care about being right;
  • Real Journalists never switch between journalism and anything else, especially PR;
  • Real Journalists are always about their community, society and democracy – always about what’s right, even if unpopular.
  • Real Journalists keep their compass, no matter what hell breaks loose around them.

There are many more points one can make about this dying species. We might only realise how crucial Real Journalists were for us when they’re not around anymore.

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