I guess I put this off longer than I wanted to, but it’s probably time to clear the air regarding me and my journalism career. A number of people have cast aspersions on my integrity lately, implying my opinions are somehow shaped or formed by journalism school, going as far as to suggest that what I write has to do with trying to get a job in media. Those comments are not just wildly off-base, but they’re actually personally hurtful.
First of all, I didn’t really know I was going into journalism until I was laid off from the construction site at the end of November 2009. I had always been interested in writing and journalism, but I was also a high school dropout and a construction worker, so my options seemed relatively limited. Being laid off gave me an opportunity for the first time to wonder if I still had the opportunity to change my life and do something with my writing.
Before I started journalism school last September, I didn’t have any delusions of grandeur. Although the National Post picks my stuff up now and then, it isn’t as though I’m going to finish school and go work on their editorial board. Actually, the truth is that in about a month from now I’m probably going to be looking for work at any newspaper that will have me, whether that’s in a big city paper or a town of 2,000 people.
A bit about journalism school for a moment. Although there’s some political stuff in it, most, if not all, pertains to the manner in which journalists are expected to conduct themselves. And as far as the people in my program go, I’m probably the only one who’s interested in politics at all. Sure, some of them probably lean to the left, but then again so do most people in Canada. And if it seems as though most journalists lean to the left, that’s probably because writing and media is an occupation that attracts a greater number of people from that demographic. (It’s not high finance, after all)
The idea that journalism school is some kind of brain-washing camp or echo chamber for the left, is patently ridiculous. In fact, it’s so misguided that I can’t really begin to describe it. Would every single person in my program be happy to be offered a job at the CBC? Of course they would. As they would CTV, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Toronto Star or Canadian Press. They’re in school to get a job, not to join a political movement.
So, do people really think I’m going to join the media and conform to some kind of imagined left-leaning editorial directive? To be quite honest, I’m more worried about the getting hired part first. Beyond that, I’m concerned about the perception of a political pundit trying to back his way into journalism after having written politics for four years. It usually happens the other way around for a good reason. For the same reason some people mistrust any CBC reporter who offers an opinion, it’s possible that people won’t trust a reporter who’s done the same thing in the National Post.
But people who think I’m being changed by journalism clearly don’t understand me. When I went to Afghanistan, I got to spend time around journalists, some of whom have been doing this for 30 years. It’s not as easy as it looks.
You can’t just present a story based on what you think is right. You can’t just grab the facts you think are relevant or talk to the one person you think should be listened to. You can’t dismiss a story because you don’t like what a person is saying, even if it’s something you disagree with. When I went to report on George Galloway and was barred admission on my media credentials by rabble blogger Derrick O’Keefe because he accused me of being a propagandist, I didn’t turn around and submit a story about leftwing censorship. Because that’s not the mandate of a journalist, nor is the story about me.
Writing for journalism is hard. If you don’t think so, you try it for a day. Try picking a story, finding the most important part about it, interviewing all sides to it, finding the right balance, gathering the background information, ensuring all your facts are correct, and then writing 350 words using the correct newspaper style and spelling. And then try doing that several times a day, and know that you’re expected to do that every single day you want to call yourself a journalist. It’s hard.
I just finished writing a 2,300-word business article for a trade magazine. It doesn’t matter what I think or what I believe. I had to gather facts and information and opinions from the business world, and my credibility and integrity depends on the fairness, accuracy and truth of every single word of that article.
So there’s my rant. If you think my opinions are being self-censored or influenced by my getting an education in journalism, you’re free to believe that. But don’t tell me about it. I’d rather you and I just go our separate ways, because I don’t think I can respect a person who can’t show me — and my chosen profession — the respect I deserve.