I can be a journalist

My last post was in response to the idea that anyone with a blog can be a a citizen journalist. Well, I guess they can if they write stories about events and issues in their locales and can make money at it. I got pretty snotty about what constitutes a “real” journalist. Now I am going to contradict myself. It’s my blog; I can do what I like.

I have become journalism aware the last few weeks. I am noticing journalists in almost every television show and movie that I watch, seeing them with new eyes. I have new context for these characters.

I just binge watched The Wire, the gritty, harsh, sensationalistic and insanely preposterous drama series about Baltimore’s west side from the perspective of residents, drug dealers, kids, law enforcement, politicians, businessmen, and journalists. The last season was silly in its basic plot concept, but the inclusion of the story of the destruction of the Baltimore Sun was worth cringing through Jimmy McNulty’s insane behavior.

One thing became apparent to me in Season 5: ethics in journalism must be maintained. No matter what media are used to present the news to readers, journalistic ethics must be observed. I appreciate how the series’ writers handled the entire subject of newspapers. I think they accurately captured what it was like at the beginning of the end of traditional newspapers in the U.S., and the death of the Baltimore Sun in particular. I laughed at the obvious English majors in the newsroom who were arguing about dependent clauses and gerunds.

I consider myself a student of everything. I am a student of English, history, computers, cooking, economics, car repair, marketing, public relations, web design, photography, graphic design, and everything else I do in my life. I don’t get a paycheck for anything I do. I am a full-time amateur. Yay me!

One day I hope to make money at something I am learning now. It might be journalism. It might be editing. It might be teaching or tutoring. It might be that I never reach a point in my life where I have skills valuable enough to be purchased by another. I don’t know. I do know that the day that I write an article and get paid for it, I will be a professional writer. That is all that it takes.

I think that it is much more than that when it comes to being a professional journalist. I do NOT believe one must attend a graduate program called “school of journalism” in order to become an excellent journalist. I would not be so narrow minded. To believe such a thing would be to believe that journalism is only possible if done in a newsroom or magazine offices or television station. That is ridiculous.

Journalism is comprised of some basic components, all of which are based on my own reading and observations:

  • Writing about something that is happening or has happened
  • Adhering to journalistic ethics which include the following:
    • Properly handling sources and quotes
    • Accurate and detailed record-keeping
    • Excellent and thorough research encompassing all sides of an issue or story
    • Keeping the voice neutral and unbiased as much as possible
    • Being truthful — not misleading readers
  • Submitting to the input and decisions of editors
  • Following protocol for publications
  • Independent research and original writing when dealing with press releases
  • Using a dictionary and style manual
  • Maintaining a professional distance from subjects
  • You are accountable to . . . know how to fill this in
  • And so much more . . .

I consider myself a student, a neophyte, a newbie. I do not believe that I must get a degree in journalism in order to be a successful journalist. I do believe I would need a lot more education and experience before I could call myself a professional journalist, though.

How many of us moan every time we read a short article in a local news source and find typos, poorly-constructed sentences, horrible vocabulary choices, and pretty much no information? I know that I wonder if anyone even proofreads articles before they are posted online on a couple of news sources I check out each week. The Middletown Press is one of the worst. Can we expect better quality from news organizations that refuse to pay editors and writers for a decent day’s work?

If readers want their news for free, do they have any right to expect professional journalism? Professional means someone is paid for their work. If you get your news for free and block all ads, how are news organizations going to pay their writers and staff? These are questions that must be answered not only by media owners but by consumers. I think it is time for me to subscribe to a couple of online newspapers. I get the New York Times free on campus, and have a room in the library where I can read the trades, but I think it is important to support local news media companies.

Just some thoughts on this very sleepy Tuesday (because I stayed up way too late last night and need a nap now).


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