Helping new journalists
by DheerajChand, Sun Jul 08, 2007 at 06:37:53 PM EDT
Crossposted on Daily Kos.
As all of you know, I started writing posts here about the importance of an open sourced media list. So far, my posts have been pretty sporadic (this is my third!) and not very long. It's quite a bit easier to put things out in the form of an embryonic suggestion and hope to develop it through comment based conversation, but my inner laziness and my lack of reputation here on Daily Kos have made that hard to accomplish. Let's hope that both of those change.
In my first post, I wrote about how having these lists handy would allow young journalists to establish themselves and get pieces published, as well as helping smaller publications get more attention. I'd like to correct that by saying it's good for new journalists rather than just young journalists.
Why the distinction? Kick the flip.
The best way to start to explain this is to give you a little background on myself. In my professional past, I have taught school, tutored Latin, tutored math, coached debate, assisted lawyers at a small firm, waited tables, made sandwhiches, done campaign fieldwork, done opposition research, done campaign fundraising and have worked as a journalist. I didn't study journalism in college. In fact, I studied the farthest things from it: classics and philosophy. My big joke is "Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, German and books written in them."
I'm nobody's fool, though, and anyone who knows anything about policy debate knows that you learn as much about political science, strategy, philosophy and the nuts and bolts of political mechanics as at least most MA candidates in polysci, and at least as much inn how to craft narratives out of seemingly discrete phenomena as any political journalist. (In fact, most debaters are probably better political scientists and prognosticators than most political journalists, but that's a diary for another time. Right now, we're talking about why this is important.) I'm nobody's fool. I can count to 270, 218 and 60 with the best of them. Because of debate, I also have an incredibly arsenal of economic, sociological, anthropological and philosophical knowledge stored up in my head, and if there's something I don't know, I have the research skills to get it.
Anyway, I found myself at a crossroads a while ago, and I randomly answered an ad to become an entry-level reporter in D.C. It was fantastic. I loved it. It was a great experience, but all good things had to come to an end, and the small, boutique agency for which I worked started laying people off to pay the bills. So, here I am, having accidentally gotten into journalism, loving it, and curious about where to go from here. Most bureaus I know of want people with not just experience, but J-school training.
Now, I'm not going to write a blog about how J-school is stupid and pointless, because it's not. There's a lot that I had to learn on the fly about ethics, best practices, style, etc. that I could have learned had I not spent my time in college pondering the fact that Sanskrit and Attic Greek have words in common. What I will say, though, is that I made a horizontal (Or maybe diagonal? It's hard to say if I moved slightly up or slightly down.) shift into journalism, became damn good at it and now find myself in the position of trying to find another gig and to freelance while I can.
This is not a plug for myself. I am not urging people to hire me.
This is not a plug for myself. I am not urging people to hire me.
What is this, then?
There are hundreds of people like me out there. (You can see some of my work on my site.) There are people who know about issues, who know politics or who just have something fantastic ability to discover information, view things differently or to bring something to the table. Open sourced media lists would make the ability of these people to get into journalism incredibly easier.
Now, some would say, "wtf get a blog d00d." For better or for worse, it's not quite the same, although some smaller publications will look at diaries or self-published blogs as meaningful clips, but it's rare. The reasons for that, as much as I can tell, are that
- for better or for worse, most blogs don't follow A.P. Style, Chicago Style or whatever style guide the publications prefer,
- most blogging is self-edited, and not run past and given the nod of approval of an editor, which leads into the final point,
- which is that for the most part, blogging is a solitary activity. Rare are the bloggers who work in a team environment, or who have press credentials and access to seats of power. Not to make "Vinnie in a basement" jokes, but reporters really are representatives of their bureaus and agencies. Editors seem hesitant to trust people whom they don't know to be capable of working under these conditions .
Now, not all of these are fair, but it's the case that a lot of editors feel this way.
Now, let's assume that some guy, and for the heck of it, let's call him Vinnie, has the insight to look at what's going on and relate it back to a larger picture. Let's assume that he can look at the local Congressional race and follow the money back to who the real players are, and look past the proxy fight occurring. What can he do? He can should it from the rooftops, he can make anyone who'll listen, well, listen, he can write a blog and he can try to submit this to any outlet he can. Now, let's suppose that Vinnie threads the needle and is right in his analysis. If he managed to get something placed somewhere, he is more likely to be sought out the next time.
What does this do? It's a simple market operation. Increase the number of viable competitors for a finite resource, and the threshold for victory becomes that much higher, and only the best succeed. Flood the market with new writers writing for new outlets, and the whole ballgame changes. Tired of incompetent reporters who string together stories from press releases and slant their coverage based on which press secretary pays for their gins and tonic? (Believe me, I've covered the Hill and The White House, and it happens.) Give them so much competition that they'll never see what hit them.
Moreover, it's not just a straight numbers game. Yes, the political discourse of this country is bettered when more people enter into it, but there's also a qualitative difference that's made. The more people of diverse perspectives and backgrounds who come into journalism, the better the debate becomes. Having been a teacher and having worked for an immigration lawyer, I have on-the-ground, immediate experience with these subjects. I can cover it with knowledge that few people can. Hell, I can cover free trade and third world issues with knowledge that few people can because of the fact that I grew up there.
There are all kinds of people who read publications every day and think to themselves, "What the hell is that guy talking about?" Here's a great example. I was at the Senate one time, covering an environment press conference. The subject was energy independence. I met a reporter who'd been covering energy independence and fossil fuels for fifteen years, and we were chatting while the doddering old men of the Senate arranged their ties and did what they did before gracing us with their presence. I happened to mention to her a passing interest in methane hydrate fuel development, and she'd never heard of it. This was no podunk reporter. She wrote for a magazine of huge national repute, and had no idea what this was or why it was important. Granted, I only know about it because I'm from Houston, TX, and know a lot of people in the energy industry, but it was one of those moments when I realised that reporters covering beats aren't necessarily experts in their areas. What would happen if one the Senators had instead been facing a guy who'd worked for twenty years in alternative fuel development, and then decided that he wanted to write about energy for National Journal? Would the Senators have been able to stand up to that kind of questioning? Would the entire debate have been better? Would the stories filed have been more illuminating? Hard to say, but it's tempting to see it as a better world.
So, in summation, I think that having open sourced media lists helps more people move horizontally or diagonally into journalism, and that's a good thing. Huzzah. Let the flaming begin. :)