An Open Letter To Journalism

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An Open Letter To Journalism

Dear journalism,

Adoration and derision pester you like fleas. This, however, goes to show your importance. We must acknowledge your entire portrait. I know I am not a professional journalist. But I have thought about you and your role in a high-functioning democracy. Indulge the thought from someone who cares deeply about you. Without further ado, let us jump right in!

1. Multi-faceted approach

Journalists are often accused of being too nice or rude. But I realize you have to walk a tight rope. He/she cannot be too hostile to people who are being interviewed. If that is done, it will become less of a productive conversation and more of a shouting match. But he/she also cannot act all “buddy-buddy” with the interviewee. If one is more concerned with being a friend and not finding the information, your views will obviously be clouded. I would like to call it the “coin hypothesis”. You have to be polite and respectful but a hard-hitting watchdog. Reconciling these duties is, doubtlessly, challenging.

2. Emotional intelligence

Whether you are reporting on sports or medicine, there is one common thread: the human. Scientists, athletes, politicians–all are human. You have to remember how messy people are. No one is all good or all bad. Intentions can be tricky to determine, and everyone makes mistakes. Even if you are not reporting on a person specifically, everything ties back to people somehow (i.e. the ethics of stem-cell research, an athletes’ drug use). That is not to say to constantly make excuses. The president, for example, should be held to high standards. But to get the full story, you must remember to empathize.

3. “Objectivity”

This is the common buzzword. People argue about the objectivity of a particular journalist and/or platform. But we must remember: pure objectivity is a utopian abstraction. We all have biases. It is not always easy to set those aside. He/she can question their bias going in, listen to all the sides, and keep their mind as open as possible. This is the closest you will come to a fair conclusion. But remember also, journalists will always be called biased, legitimately or not. As long as you tried to be fair, that is all you can truly do as a person.

4. “Corruption”

You hear constantly about the “corrupt” media. Sometimes, the people are not even clear about what they mean by “media” or “corruption”. Having said that, it is hard to deny there is corruption in the profession. Channels like MSNBC and Fox News having certain narratives. That is what we must try to avoid as a journalist. Freelancing is probably the most practical way to do that. If you work for a big cooperation, someone might explain how the story has to be told a certain way. If you do that, you may get a raise. This is, arguably, a disgrace to the profession. Do your best to avoid putting yourself in such situations. It will not be easy, but as with objectivity, give it your best shot.

5. Research

Journalists have to amass a huge quantity of information. If research is not your thing, journalism may not be what you want to go into. Journalists must spend a lot of time talking to people, reading articles/magazines/books, attending press conferences, crunching numbers, etc. You have to check your information several times and take bias into account, to try to be accurate. Take many different classes when you go off to college. Being well-read will give you a wider perspective; you can see connections, details, and the big picture. What more could you ask for?

6. Communication

This is a more obvious point; journalism is all about language. You have to talk to people in a certain way and ask the right questions to get to the information. If you are in print journalism, you must never waste words. You need to get to the point quickly and clearly. For the written word, edit heavily. Take out cliché phrases and overused words. One could also say that knowing a foreign language would be useful. Maybe you are reporting on a situation in Germany. Many of the people probably know English but it is probably not their first language. Speaking to people one-on-one in their native tongue will let them express themselves better. As for you, it increases your tools.

7. Philosophical mindset

You do not have to be an academic philosopher to be a journalist. The job is quite philosophical though. Often you have to play devil’s advocate with arguments. You have to constantly be evaluating yourself. “Did I express this fact correctly?” “What possible bias did I have that I looked over?” Do not allow this to incapacitate you, but you must also be your own watch-dog. You are trying to express a certain truth about the world. By questioning your own evaluation, you will hit closer to the target.

8. Travel

Travel is not required but it often is a factor. If you are chronicling a specific campaign or a disaster in another country, you will need to travel. If you are in a relationship, you will have to explain this to your partner. Let your friends and family know. On top of that, understand the places you are going to. Learn about the culture, what is appropriate, what is not appropriate. Some people do not like to travel much at all. If that is you, once again, journalism might not be your career.

9. Technology

You do not have to have a Ph.D. in computational mathematics to be a journalist (although it would not hurt you in the slightest if you did). But we live in a technological age. Knowing how to use Word, editing software, web design, and cameras for video and photo. Knowing how to grab an audience’s attention and what words will/should stick out in their mind. This will help you in the job market and to reach a wider audience.

I hope you are well, best wishes!

Matthew Hazelwood

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