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Monday 23 October 2017
Commentary

Trust me – I’m a journalist

Journalists are under attack. The public is revolting against the media. It’s happening in Trinidad and Tobago. They’re at it in the USA. Even in quiet, reserved old England, the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, had to take a bodyguard with her to the Labour Party conference.

So what’s going on? Why are people like you having a go at people like me?

There are many different types of journalist, but often when I tell somebody what I do, they assume I mean I’m a dirt-digging scandal-hound, not to be trusted because I’m constantly looking for something to expose.

That is not quite true. Yes, we’re constantly looking for something, but in the case of those of us who don’t work on the news side of things, and certainly aren’t “investigative,” we’re looking for something interesting, that’s all. We’re looking for something to tell readers that they didn’t already know.

It’s the same with any type of writer: we’re always looking for material, because just as a builder needs bricks and a carpenter needs wood, what we need are facts, stories. So everyone we meet and everything we see or hear about is potential material – something from which to make whatever it is we make.

It has always been a mixed blessing being a journalist. On the one hand it’s a privilege, being granted access to people’s personal stories and insights. And on the other hand you’re regarded with suspicion. You’re an ambulance chaser. You’re a spy, a busybody, a snooper, poking your nose in where it’s not wanted.

What has changed in recent years is that, with modern communications and particularly social media, everyone has the ability to write and “publish” a story, if we take publishing to mean putting it in front of people.

That in turn means that newspapers and the media in general – TV, radio, online – are no longer held in the same esteem. What people admire most is what they can’t do themselves, and if you are in possession of some facts or even just opinions, and you can communicate them to the world, that makes you as good as the established, mainstream media (MSM), doesn’t it?

Well no, not necessarily.

The great newspapers and broadcast media – the long-established titles in this country and the worldwide names such as the BBC and CNN – have built their reputations on hard work under the scrutiny of the masses. They have been read, watched and listened to for years, and if they weren’t honest and impartial, we would have found out by now.

They’re not perfect and they get things wrong sometimes but who doesn’t in their own sphere?

Of course there are certain media companies that lean one way or the other politically, and we know which ones they are and which side they favour, but the same can be said of any individual who decides to create a news service from their front room using nothing more than a laptop, a mobile phone and, rather than a traditional distribution network of vans and aeroplanes, the internet.

And of course many mighty enterprises have started life in such tiny, homemade ways and gone on to become successful, powerful and respected. There are great people out there right now, just getting started.

But the man in his back bedroom and the woman on the living room sofa, broadcasting to as much of the world as they can reach, are not inherently more honest or believable than the long-in-the-tooth career journo operating from a corporate office.

What they are is unmonitored. If you’re working for an established news operation, there will be people watching what you do, reading what you write and weighing it up before it reaches the public. Editors. Sub-editors. Proof readers. There are questions such as “Where did you get this information?” and “Are you sure about this?”

The gleefully independent one man band has no such obstacles getting in the way of what he or she deems the truth.

They are catering for the new breed of doubters, challengers and, yes, reactionaries. Their audiences don’t believe anything and they don’t believe in anything. God, capitalism, Hillary Clinton, Gandhi – they’re all the same to such sceptics. The Titanic didn’t just hit an iceberg and sink, and the hole in the ozone layer was a fabrication to obscure what is really causing global warming. If it says something in the MSM, they reason, it can’t be true.

Whatever happened to trust in your fellow man and belief in our natural integrity? Is life itself actually a plot by some malevolent unseen force? A questioning nature is a healthy thing for the individual and the world as a whole.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

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