Paul Bradshaw, in his inaugural lecture at City University London, entitled ‘Is Ice Cream Strawberry?’, flagged up ego as a journalist’s biggest problem. He said:
“It is ego that leads us to report on a story without linking to our sources.
It is ego that prevents us from reading the comments on our articles and updating the original accordingly.
And it is ego that leads us to ask questions like ‘Is blogging journalism?’ or its latest variant: ‘Is Twitter journalism?’” (quotes taken from xcity-magazine.com)
He even made ‘Get over yourself’ one of his seven easy-to-remember soundbites to take away from his hour-long meander through journalism, as if it needed any more emphasis.
I’ve thought for a long time about debilitating effect of journalist’s ego and Paul’s lecture not only kick-started my thought process again but made me fear for the future of journalism.
Because, while linking to sources and commenting on your own articles are the most obvious examples of ego that certainly go on in national newsrooms around the country, there are so many more worrying examples exhibited by aspiring journalists on a smaller scale that reoccur on a daily basis.
When an aspiring journalist disregards a supposedly smaller local story in favour of chasing (and not necessarily getting) a big ‘celeb’ interview, that’s ego.
When an aspiring journalist gets an interview for a job or grad scheme and unsubtly goes around asking everyone else if they too have got one, that’s ego.
When an aspiring journalist constantly/unnecessarily refers to/boasts about the fact that they went on work experience at x or y, that’s ego.
When an aspiring journalist, as part of a team during production week, isn’t prepared to muck in where and when they are needed, whether it’s subbing or InDesign, that’s ego.
And, most of all, when an aspiring journalists can’t be bothered to go out and walk their patch or is happy to sit on Twitter, rather than meet people in the know with the stories, that’s ego of the highest order.
As one such aspiring journalist, I’m guilty of it too occasionally but I’d like to think I have a better grasp than many of the idea that you cannot elevate yourself above those you are writing about and need for stories.
It’s got to a point where it seems young journalists think they have to display this kind of bravado to survive and thrive in the industry. It might be years of doing unpaid work experience or being shouted at by editors after getting some stats for a fact box wrong, but young hacks have become extremely high and mighty, dare I say even precious, about their copy (“There’s nothing to edit”), their Twitter followers (“I only follow the select few”) and their entitlements at the end of it all (“Why hasn’t anybody given me a job?”).
I fear that the journalists of tomorrow still have the top-down mentality of the old Fleet Street hacks who arrogantly saw themselves as gate keeper of all knowledge and pushed content out into the public sphere with no consideration for the ripple effect afterwards. Obviously they didn’t have the technology and the hindsight that we have, which makes it even more worrying if we cannot strike the balance right between ego and engaging.
So, when put like that, don’t be surprised, when this generation of journalists move in the regional and national media, that old habits die hard and journalistic ego perpetuates. I hope I’m wrong but I fear the worst.
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