Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Run for the hills!"

While researching a recent feature for uni, I've come across a very gloomy perspective in journalism today.
The feature was intended to provide some perspectives and advice on the benefits of work experience and university journalism courses. Out of everyone I interviewed, only two did not warn me against becoming a journalist. Some were jesting, others were dead serious. "Go into PR, there's more money in it!" some said. "Become an accountant," others recommended.
A retired City University journalism professor told me that "unless you have a driving urge to become a journalist - in which case go for it with rat-like cunning - you should think at once of some more respectable, profitable, or worthwhile career!"
It's true, journalism doesn't pay much (see later), unless you are a celebrity columnist, and it's also true that journalists aren't exactly the most loved public servants in the world.
John Humphrys, when asked if he had any advice for prospective journalists, told our editor "I don't believe in giving advice to would-be journalists... except, possibly, to consider another career. There are too many people trying to make a living in the game these days..."
All very glum and uninsperational, really.
As for the level of pay... Well, judging by recent criticisms of my work, the reason journalists aren't paid much, is because they're not actually recquired to write anything! Whenever I hand in a piece for checking, if a paragraph isn't 100% built around a quote, then I'm asked to cut it, even if it's actually a worthy point!
"No one's going to pick up [the magazine] and say, 'I wonder what Stefan thinks about this issue'," I was told. Well, fair enough, but that's not what I was writing at all! (For that, I have this blog.)
Instead of using a quote, I pooled stuff from conversations I've had with many journalists and turned it into a paragraph of advice, without attributing it to one person over another. Not a single personal pronoun in sight!
It's really beyond me, because the piece was already about 60% quotation, which is far more than you see anywhere else. To me, that's lazy journalism - there's no point in having reams of quotation, and nothing else. It's a feature, after all, so there should be analysis and commentary. None of it was about what I personally thought, without any outside input. It read better without a quote.
As for the columnists that are pulling in £300k (or whatever), good for them, but stop writing about yourselves! I really do pick up a paper and not think I want to hear what sort of party someone went to last night. I'd much rather read a commentary on a news story - personal opinions more than welcome - but the sort of diary columns that you find in The New Statesman are completely... useless.
Articles about a serious issue that are peppered with personal pronouns annoy the hell out of me - I want to read about the story or the news, not the author. If I wanted to, I would read their autobiography or their blogs.

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