An attempt to promote an old-fashioned idea: that being a journalist is a good thing
Sandra Dickson has lost her faith in journalism.
Dickson isn't one of those multi-award-winning journalists whose byline you would recognise but a very recent Whitireia Polytechnic graduate who is abandoning the field after an unhappy internship at the Dominion Post.
I hadn't noticed Dickson's writing before. And yet, the idealistic former journalist in me—who I'm astounded to discover still believes that being a reporter is something to aspire to—wants to launch a "Mr Lisa Goes to Hollywood" response.
Remember that Simpsons moment where Lisa, in Washington to deliver a patriotic essay, stumbles upon political corruption and announces she has lost her faith in democracy?
A Senate page rushes immediately to the phone to call his senator to declare: "A little girl has lost faith in democracy!" The Senate swings into action, and that little girl's faith is restored.
Setting aside Dickson's beef about the DomPost's story choice (I agree with the paper—Parihaka is a great festival, but not "news" in itself), she recounts tales from the DomPost newsroom: a journalist hassling a high-profile friend for an interview about her private life, and a reporter interviewing an apparently vulnerable child, both of which are definitely things that can happen in newsrooms.
But some great things happen there, too. And in my limited experience, the good stuff outweighs the bad.
Despite their preciousness, cynical exteriors, black humour, and over-sized egos, journalists are a fairly thoughtful lot.
Every newsroom is different, but where I have worked, reporters talk among themselves about the grey zones. Most news organisations have fairly sensible policies, but reporters, too, talk about where to draw the line on things like calling up kids, using out-of-context information from someone's social networking page, or doing a 'death-knock'—and they and their bosses usually end up making decisions that I think Dickson would agree with.
(I even discovered while at TVNZ that a bunch of people actually work there because they believe in public broadcasting. Others of us took the job to see our mugs on the telly).
Kiwi journalists produce some fantastic work. Most of it isn't recognised or rewarded outside of after-work drinks. The rise of blogs has made everyone an armchair critic, but hardly anybody a cheerleader for quality journalism. (Blogs are not about to replace old-fashioned journalism, and we should be incredibly grateful for that. The majority of blogs take their content from more traditional news organisations while those that don't tend to be so partisan that the real news can get lost.)
Dickson, by all accounts, might have made a good journalist. She is a snappy writer and a dogged researcher.
Her self-proclaimed last act of journalism—a piece that in my view overstates the importance of blogs in the last election—is paradoxically outmatched in terms of independent journalism by some of her blog entries. "Police find non-existent survey report!!!!" would be a great story, if only it had fewer exclamation points and a more balanced tone.
So I am disappointed that Dickson gave up on mainstream media. It appears from her recounting of her DomPost internship that she didn't take the humble, mouth-shut, eager-to-learn approach that has eased many an intern into any workplace.
She might have made a feisty journalist. And a great contribution to those ongoing discussions in the newsroom about where to draw the line.