The role of the Journalist?

Writing for The Times or online blogging? The exclusivity for releasing information to the public no longer exists with the added versatility of modern media. It seems that journalism has lost its footing and less income is available to employ professionals. What a journalist does is up for discussion.

In today’s society the job of a journalist has changed from what it was ten years ago. In the mid and late 20th century the typical description of a journalist was somebody who wrote, discovered and reported information for a secular body such as BBC or The Times.

It made the job title an exquisite one and one that carried more clout than it had done before. New powers for media came in the form of broadcast media – that is a media ran by a stronghold of bodies that have the power to distribute and deliver high-profile news.

We have always had freelance journalists but how many of those were able to make a living? Even then working alone and marketing oneself by one self was difficult – only the very dedicated, talented and entrepreneurial survived to make a living by the trade.

Smaller scale local news and unique sectors could afford to employ and provide welfare for those who could not or had not the aspiration to join the main broadcasters but even they were dominated and servant to the larger bodies.

Online revolution

The impact of the revolution and ease of access to quality media production, distribution and publication has resulted in a huge number of people acting and starting to fulfil the role of the traditional journalist. It doesn’t take any longer a major organisation, the money or expertise to create a media production or provide a platform to distribute news because the average Joe next door can upload or blog all the same.

Most of the information we find on the internet is free so why would the consumer pay elsewhere? Large co-corporations are surviving through the size and wealth they already have earned and the power of the their brand names but most of them are already looking for ways to evolve as large sects of demand fall away from their platforms into the melee of productions available elsewhere.

Figure One: The media has inherited network, rather than broadcast culture. The economic effect is a shift from Pareto’s 80/20 model (old market) to Long Tail economics (new market). Products which were part of Pareto’s ‘Long tail’ become almost endless and free in the new market.

Effectively the paid job of a Journalist becomes more competitive as money from demand is drained to free culture. This is in turn makes the task of the freelance journalist even trickier than before – with no fixed salary or income from a ‘payer’ the freelance will struggle to find smaller companies to pay them because those companies cannot gain demand over free choice.

The ‘paid journalist’ again becomes an exclusive role, very often employed by larger bodies that grew during broadcast culture and the pedestal exists for anyone lucky enough to work in them…but for how long will the money and the brands last?

Journalism is competitive

The role of the traditional journalist, who writes or reports amongst a hierarchy of editors and sub editors, is becoming defunct, to the point where there are too many qualified for too few positions that pay. “I am one” is the attitude of many a web blogger or video poster and why wouldn’t they consider themselves to be one? We all are?

I remember having a conversation with my friend before I did my degree in Sports Journalism in 2007. He said, “Why waste your money doing that? When you can just train and study for yourself at home”. It was an interesting opinion, one I considered and respected – he himself had taken a good deal of time, with a loan to work on music and practice his production. The standard he had reached was exceptional – so it wasn’t a comment I took lightly.

It is though my opinion that qualification counts and it gave me something to aim for but the irony is his opinion could not have been any more relevant to the subject I was choosing. In another industry such as law or even hospitality management it might be essential but Journalism is in limbo.

So what was it I learned and picked up along the way that will stop the web bloggers and video phones from selling me short, making me look a foolish waste of time and taking my demand?

It would be a lie to say I could rely on talent alone – there are undoubtedly more talented writers than me who have never been near a university, so it isn’t the case that I would write so well that everyone would flock to read my work.

Even if I was a supreme writing talent, the most eloquent in prose I am still not convinced that I would emerge a whirlwind of success the world over and journalism could be considered to be a competitive, fair play arena rewarding only the most ethical and talented of persons – is anything really ever like that?

Look how long it took Susan Boyle to get a record contract – surely her neighbours heard her singing long before she arrived and isn’t writing far more low-key than that anyway?

The newly qualified journalist can write until their heart is content, perhaps they will get noticed amongst the melee of writing online the world over or perhaps they can gain the privilege to work with a professional brand but it is no co-incidence in this industry how often we hear the expression “make the right contacts” – it might be as useful if you know the editor.

Is writing all?

But who says that the Journalist is a columnist or writer, solely or exclusively for direct auction? The moniker became known as someone who performs that task almost exclusively for their work but the role of the Journalist is far more diverse than that.

The word itself derives from two words: Diurnus which means by day, of the day or daily in Latin derived from the Latin word dies meaning “day; daylight; specific day; day in question; date of letter” and liste from Middle English meaning roll of names, contestants in the lists meaning “place of combat at boundary of fields”, from Mid English listes, plural of liste from Old English meaning “list, fringe, border”.  

Or was it made of three? As in Journ meaning, “day” and, “al” meaning, “the act of” from latin and French and a suffix for, “defining donations to nouns by including the second person” – iste in French.

So in simple terms Journalists as the word suggests are people who act by day and perhaps are the people who are prepared to take the day to its limits – people for whom the saying, ‘seize the day’ could not be more fitting or ‘carpe dium’ as it is in Latin.

The modern meaning of list is now just “to record data items in a meaningful order or sequence” Often to keep a record, for memory or to place tasks or items in order so that they can be remembered or completed. Many people use them to complete their work – setting themselves daily, weekly or even monthly tasks. It is an essential professional skill and one which I often find myself doing.

Creating a work list enables me to order my tasks and to prioritise them by importance to, it is the frequent list by which I live my life. If ever I really need to get through a large amount of work I make a list and tick the items off as I complete them. I often find that new items arise whilst completing tasks and even when the list is completed a new list emerges.

As a qualified journalist or somebody who has trained to be one; the skills that you are likely to have picked up are in communications expertise such as interviewing, writing and presenting. Journalists are trained to be alert to ethical and moral issues in society – able to approach all people and therefore will be able negotiators. Sometimes their work requires courage to go and find out information or talk with people who don’t want to talk.

The expert daily list maker may be able to add value their work though using the skills that they inherit in training as a journalist and using skills such as research, recording, investigation, interview, visiting, negotiating, note taking, observing, communicating with others, writing, filming, recording and coming up with new and original ideas through their practice to improve situations, business and trade.

What needs to be done today?

The modern role of the journalist, in terms of obtaining payment for services could be just that. I was at the car wash the other day and it just dawned on me what if I was to work for them as a journalist? You might be thinking that is a bit far out – your local car wash is unlikely to grab headline news with the Guardian.

That is true, however if I was to come on board for a month. Would the boss know the prices against his local competitors? Would he know where the best deals for washing materials and equipment could be found? Did the business have an online presence and had they posted any reviews or free advertising? Had they ever produced any literature or carried out any surveys on the public or their own customers?

The idea came off the back of my work at the football club I worked at for work experience in a voluntary capacity. My self and another journalist had carried out match reports, news items and interviews with staff and players as well as helping set up a new website. 

We also provided an inlet of information from the industry regarding player or team news and opportunities for funding, equipment or advice. In many ways that aside we had also given staffs someone else to bounce off, to discuss ideas with in a professional way and help inspire new ideas through communication.

I think this can be applied to any business. Working as a journalist in this role and using the diverse skills which one inherits in training can thus be of great value to a workplace and will inevitably make a more professional and inspired environment as a result.

A question of PR?

Some might argue that this role is of a Public Relations Officer or a business advisor or even the boss themselves – there are crossovers. PR though is more specific – the role of the journalist in this capacity is concerned with more than PR, for instance interviewing and questioning staff on procedures and comparing against other car washes could inspire new ideas.

A business advisor would come to specifically improve the business but the journalist rather than implement the changes would find out and inspire motives for change through communication, they could also find out what was going right or what was going wrong elsewhere and therefore to avoid. Moreover they would be able to offer media connections and expertise too.

While the boss at the firm should look into all of these areas they might not have enough time to commit. The journalist could fulfil some tasks for them or at the least give them a separate branch of communication for their ideas and perhaps refine or inspire new ones.

Whether this could catch on or not remains to be seen but it could give a new meaning to the role of the freelance journalist. Are you qualified? Do you have similar experiences? Have you considered offering you services to a School, Mini-supermarket or local fitness chain? There could be many more places and it goes yet without saying that in utilising the skills of a journalist in such a capacity value can be felt and will be added to business.

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About Colin B Robertson

I am studying Sports history and culture at MA level with De Montford University. I am working as a football coach in London with all ages and abilities - attaining UEFA B License in 2012. I graduated from the University of the Arts, London (Sport Journalism, 1st class Ba Hons) in 2011 studying in the reputable London College of Communication, previously well renowned as the London College of Printing. I specialise in football but enjoy most sports.
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