The Crucial Blog
Oooh - sometimes you could just . . . .
Good morning dentist - that tooth extraction you did was absolute rubbish. It's not what I wanted at all. The procedure you followed was all disjointed, your whole approach was wrong. Oh never mind I'll do it myself.
Good morning electrician - the rewiring work on my house was not what I was expecting at all - nothing flows properly, the connections are terrible. I've rewired it all myself and this is the system I want to use from now on.
Well would you really say that to these people that about their work? Accepted, you might feel that something was done badly - but would you be rude? Would you then do the job yourself, believing you could do it better?
No, of course not (unless you have proven dentistry and electrical skills). At the least you'd still go to another professional, acknowledging that you need to rely on someone who's spent years training and perfecting their industry sector's skills and would never assume to have enough of the same skills the work yourself.
So why are people quick to treat journalistic efforts the same?
Let me state at the outset this blog is my opportunity for a personal reflection on my experiences as a freelance and newspaper/magazine writer down the years and not with Crucial - who's carefully chosen clients are always a delight - but it's one that's had me and many, many journalistic colleagues gritting our collective teeth.
On a sheer human level, no-one likes something upon which they've a considerable amount of time, care and effort to be dismissed as rubbish in an instant. Yes it's hurtful and we take it personally. Any artist/actor/director/film-maker/novelist etc etc will know just what I mean.
Journalism may not come under an artistic banner but editorials can often come in for the same en masse criticism. Of course, every one's entitled to their opinion; that's all part of the cut and thrust of freely publishing stories and features. It's when one is asked to provide copy for those who paying for it in some way - we're talking advertorials and the like here.
Part of the job involves ensuring copy approval, I accept that and we do go out to create the best of profiles - even then you might come up with something not to the subject's liking. But it doesn't give them the right to be so dismissively rude. And then to be told that they'll write something themselves which, when it arrives is just downright awful . . well, it adds insult to injury.
All I ask that people remember that, even though some of you think otherwise, writing - journalistic writing - is not something anyone can do and it, like dentistry, electricals, plumbing, legal and thousands more also requires skill, talent and years of training. And to have one's work discarded in a few terse phrases by somebody who's spent a lifetime in a different industry altogether is, to say the least, galling.
Of course we're too professional to be equally rude and we take it on the chin when all we want to do is to tell them - let's be honest - to go forth and multiply.
IN A SIMILAR VEIN
I'm reminded of an excellent discussion I started on LinkedIn. Could journalism be tought from a website? Some great debate ensued but one of the best responses came from Colorado Springs Gazette executive editor and vice-president Jeff Thomas, with his definition of journalism. Just about anything could be learnt from a website, he wrote, learning is another matter.
"Journalism alone, among all forms of communication, is concerned primarily with documenting the world as it actually is," he added.
"Writers of novels are not singulalry concerned with that task. Poets are not concerned with it. Nor are political speech writers, advertisers, composers, sculptors, pundits, preachers, salesmen, screenwriters or many bloggers. Only journalism has, as its essence, the discipline of verification.
"There are certain skills that are useful in the discipline of verification. Research skills. The ability to find and consult original documents, and original sources. The ability to interview sources. To think critically. To sort facts from opinion, and to sift the relevant from the irrelevant. To grasp the dimensions of a topic and idenfity legitmate stakeholders. And, importantly, the ability to present information in a way that readers can see how you learned what you learned.
"A reader will trust what you say only if he or she can, if he or she wanted to and had the necessary access to sources, go out and obtain the same information you just obtained. It's sort of like scientific method: A scientific conclusion is valid only if the experiment can be replicated, with the same results. Same with journalism. If you cant' tell a reader how you know what you know, you're asking a reader to take your word for it. Only journalism has this obligation to transparency at its core.
"The rest is craftsmanship. Clear, directly, lively writing helps a reader understand what you're trying to say, but skillful writing is a virtue prized in many forms of communication, not only journalism. To be a good writer is to be a better journalist. But it's not the definition of journalism."
Skillful writing is a virtue prized . . . . something one or two mechanics/accountants/furniture shop owners I've encountered in my time should take note of.