My first real foray into journalism, at a news and culture monthly, is over.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last one-and-a half years is that good journalism is all about the balance between individual initiative and team work. The journalist may do the research and the writing, but he/she will need an editor to edit the piece, then a sub-editor to proofread it for grammatical errors, then it has to be laid out, and original images by a professional photographer always adds credibility to the article.
Individual initiative is also important because in today’s fast paced digital world, where news cycles are unimaginably faster than they used to be (according to Digiday, Buzzfeed pumps out 373 posts every day), most news organisations that are online give importance to speed over quality. More traffic on the website means more money. Cases in point: Rolling Stone’s, ‘A Rape on Campus’ article and the sacking of Buzzfeed (US) politics editor, Benny Johnson. The Rolling Stone article, about a student who said she was sexually abused at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia, was written by Sabrina Erdely for the magazine’s December 2014 issue. But later it was found that the story had been fabricated. As for Johnson, he was one of Buzzfeed’s most lucrative assets, but he was fired because his editors found that 14 pieces of his work involved plagiarism. Both examples show how the speed of the news cycle and the push for more traffic has compromised journalistic standards.
This emphasis on speed has also resulted in the death of the investigative journalist and the reporter. A lot of journalism today is merely ‘opinion’. Many of the features I read in print and online are nothing more than an aggregation of all the information available on the internet on a particular subject. This was a revelation to me, because when I started work last year, I thought all journalism was investigative – or, put another way, there had to be an element of originality to the story.
Working in a very small organisation, where the editorial team excluding the senior editors was usually made up of only three people, was a double-edged sword. It gave me all the exposure to the other side of journalism – the business aspect – and helped me understand how magazine journalism works as a whole. I was responsible not just for writing my own features and editing other articles, but also for laying them out, managing our social media and website, and occassionally liaising with the account and marketing departments. But because I was responsible for so many other things, I found that I had very little time to spend on features I really wanted to write and eventually had to let a few go.
But more importantly, this multi-tasking meant that I often found myself battling writing from a business perspective, instead of from an editorial one. For example, bcause I was constantly tweeting about our articles, posting them on Facebook and monitoring the traffic on our website using Google Analytics, when I was writing an article I increasingly found myself wondering how I could write it in a way that would make it marketable. Was I including interesting quotes that would make exciting tweets? As my experience has taught me, the absence of a concrete wall between a news organisation’s editorial and business sides – an issue over which Peter Oborne resigned from The Daily Telegraph in February – is detrimental to the quality of journalism. According to Oborne, The Telegraph did not sufficiently probe the HSBC’s closure of certain bank accounts in the UK, because the bank was a major advertiser with the newspaper, and the newspaper could not afford to upset the bank and lose revenue from its advertisements.
My hopes for future employment therefore are for a position that allows me to do some editing – which experience has taught me is instrumental in improving written skills – but where the focus is on longform feature writing.
*Image: The Guardian