‘Why the heck do you want to become a post-digital journalist?’, writes a university lecturer.
That moment on HBO’s The Newsroom when the lead character Will McAvoy, responding to why America is the greatest country in the world, says after a stinging tirade, “…we stood up for what was right, we fought for moral reasons…” He might have sooner been speaking about journalism. The halycon days of the big hitters e.g. Murrow when journalism was to them a call of duty to act on behalf of others. They could not be bought or fobbed off.
Don’t get me wrong, journalism as practiced by a small band of people pre-cable and Internet had its problems. For instance it’s assumed that only they (journalists) knew what their readers/ society cared about. They could be sympathetic to the many social blights, whilst others were arrogant and non-plussed — a platform to cosy up to other elites. After all what is journalism other than people with their particular political persuasions writing as a reflection of themselves, their values.
Here we often forget that journalism, as many theorists have posited, is a social construct framed by varying literary and cultural values. The defacto code of conduct was to suspend prejudices and look to accommodate voices and intelligibly solutions from others. Those journalists looked to stand up to powers and fight for moral reasons as exemplified in The Spotlight about how the The Boston Globe unearthed child molestation in the Roman Catholic church.
In 1994, we (myself and 30 other young journos) were part of a movement to upend the status quo of the few and their presumed position. We could shoot and report and through cable and a nascent Internet reached audiences with reports and issues few other networks would touch.
Above all we cared passionately about this new voice, ours and the audience we were speaking to. It sounds like wooly journalism, but we felt we could broaden the debate and we did to a limited extent.
Why do you want to become a journalist?, we were asked. Me, and I know others responded because ‘we’re pissed off with being told what was going on’. Invariably that involved parachute journalism.
Today, those reasons will not have changed, but as a university lecturer, one of the most common responses I hear on the hustings is, “I couldn’t think of anything else” or “because I like telling stories”. Then I clear my throat. “What stories?” Silence!
Neither is a particularly poor excuse and yes we can’t always articulate our answers in ways that make immediate sense. However, depending again on what sort of journalism we’re referring to, a considerable number of responses seem to diminish the essence of the controlled rage and diversity of views that catalyse the sharing of the hidden or , the “wow, did you know that?”
Journalism and videojournalism (my practice) is about story telling, but as we move into an age where digital facilitates a greater scope of point of view (post digital) it wouldn’t hurt to revisit how our voice can be used at a time when the perception of the world is a dystopia-in-waiting.