Friday, October 8, 2010

An old quandary revisited.

"Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

Anybody who reads Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer will inevitably pause for a moment after reading this first line. Any journalist will stop entirely and have to put the book down for a second to consider the thesis. Because it's true, and it's so true that it has made me question since the day I read it back in February. I had said, in my response to this to the class, that Malcolm's book made me rethink everything I thought I knew about studying LJ and about why I wanted to be a journalist. As much as I love the book, it shook me.

But since then, I've gone through a course of questioning my goals and whether or not journalism really is my passion. The more I consider TJATM, the more I wonder if this is what my life is destined to be: a storyteller, not a story creator. "Write the story, don't be the story." It's what we're taught, after all.

Today in workshop, Jesse talked about using our skills as conversationalists and communicators to our advantage - something we've all done at a time or two, whether we're pursuing a story or not. I wonder, though, how much of it has leaked into my daily life. How many of us journalists are able to separate the personal from the professional? If we never put our journalism hat away, do we ever engage in authentic conversations? I read once that "journalists don't have friends, only sources." How true (or false) is that? After all, did I not turn an awkward and uncomfortable encounter into something I could use for a story?

Is the journalist/subject relationship really that perverse? People who just use one another for attention, and then cast one another aside once the job is done?

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. There are professions that clock out at 5 p.m. and need no attention until 9 a.m. the next morning. Then there are professions, like a cop or firefighter or government employee, in which off-duty is situationally selective (like an off-duty cop that walks into a store being held up) and the decision to become involved is arbitrary.

    Then there are journalists. We don't turn off. We are always looking for new stories. We are always looking for new people to tell stories about; really, we are looking for new lenses with which to tell the story of the human condition.

    I haven't read The Journalist and the Murderer. I will, someday. I think the question of ethics in criticizing journalists is unfair: other writers create fiction with an obvious angle, an obvious bias, and that's okay. Journalists (good journalists) don't get that out. We are expected to tell stories that are good and stories that are horrible. We don't get the excuse that our vision is "very liberal" and receives the appropriate cheers and boos from the left-wing or right-wing.

    Aside from my internship, I'm not involved in journalism every day, but what gets me excited is that I'm tough enough that, today, I'll tell the story right, without bias. I'm shooting for a higher vision of accuracy and legitimacy in my storytelling. Doesn't mean I won't get tired of it someday (either later or soon) and will abandon journalism, but I like that the ethics are too complex for most to understand, so they seek to simply categorize brutal observation as "exploitative" or "parasitic." It's something not everyone can do. Maybe that's why I like it: the ethical endurance that I learned instead of computer skills or expertise in a scientific discipline.

    (And in the interests of legitimacy, I reposted this so it would have a cleaner format. Layout 4 ever XD )

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  3. There are professions that clock out at 5 p.m. and need no attention until 9 a.m. the next morning. Then there are professions, like a cop or firefighter or government employee, in which off-duty is situationally selective (like an off-duty cop that walks into a store being held up) and the decision to become involved is arbitrary.

    Then there are journalists. We don't turn off. We are always looking for new stories. We are always looking for new people to tell stories about; really, we are looking for new lenses with which to tell the story of the human condition.
    I haven't read The Journalist and the Murderer. I will, someday. I think the question of ethics in criticizing journalists is unfair: other writers create fiction with an obvious angle, an obvious bias, and that's okay. Journalists (good journalists) don't get that out. We are expected to tell stories that are good and stories that are horrible. We don't get the excuse that our vision is "very liberal" and receives the appropriate cheers and boos from the left-wing or right-wing.

    Aside from my internship, I'm not involved in journalism every day, but what gets me excited is that I'm tough enough that, today, I'll tell the story right, without bias. I'm shooting for a higher vision of accuracy and legitimacy in my storytelling. Doesn't mean I won't get tired of it someday (either later or soon) and will abandon journalism, but I like that the ethics are too complex for most to understand, so they seek to simply categorize brutal observation as "exploitative" or "parasitic." It's something not everyone can do. Maybe that's why I like it: the ethical endurance that I learned instead of computer skills or expertise in a scientific discipline.

    ReplyDelete