A good digestion and a steady head

FEATURE writer Ed Caesar has sparked a journalists talk about journalism debate – they, we love nothing morequerying in the Sunday Times where all the journalism course graduates are going to go in the thinning job market ahead of us.

It’s an unanswered question, worrying for any reporter at any chapter of their career. What to do? Have an immigration-curbing style cap on people enrolling on journalism courses in the first place (or in the Lib Dems’ case, say ‘if you’ve proven you’ve done ten years of good work experience, you can stay get to call yourself a journalist’). I’m not actually suggesting that.

Caesar captures the worries of an entire industry here, even if bloggers have been ranting that his zillion-page feature overlooked the entrepreneurial, specialist bloggers who think the shifting sands from print to online opens more doors than it closes, widening the circle of people who can take part in journalism. Those who might think differently are writers who have devoted lifetimes to carving out print editions out every week, every night, keeping the tradition of physical souvenirs of history, diaries of life.

In 50 years time, a printed out web account of the day Rio Ferdinand didn’t lift the World Cup and some sarcky blogposts are surely not going to be the same as the yellowing old tabloids from 1966, Bobbt Moore and all that, tucked away in attic by thousands of dads and granddads. Special day that, lad.

What a situation. The experienced reporters are depressed by a fear that knowing how to tweeter (or whatever it is these young sods do) may be more important than the classic doorknocker investigations they have spent careers mastering. The graduates meanwhile are depressed because they have spent thousands of pounds on years of lectures on why you should tweet only to find so few starting opportunities. No wonder Caesar’s only real tip is to have drive and determination.

In such tight times, the old argument that places fall your way in this job because of a whispered word from a well placed relative or a guy called Miles or Piers you knew at private school often resurfaces. Caeser notes only one of a  select group of award-nominated young reporters from a top prize field from two years ago were educated privately. Yet the less than diverse industry he sketches out reveals how basic requirements might now include somewhere free to stay in London and some other mystery source of finance to cover you in the early days. A wad of cash is also needed, in most cases, to get on courses with the best stepping stones to national newspaper grad schemes. So those who can afford the best courses have the first sniff of a national newsroom from the start and goes some way to making sure the middle classes will always be writing the front page.

Amid the doom and gloom, Caesar quoted the old Sunday Times writer Nicholas Tomalin who perceptively laid down the skills journalists would find useful. Not a parent feathered bank account, the list, written in 1969, is as follows:

A knack with telephones, trains and petty officials; a good digestion and a steady head; total recall; enough idealism to inspire indignant prose (but not enough to inhibit detached professionalism); a paranoid temperament; an ability to believe passionately in second-rate projects; well-placed relatives; good luck; the willingness to betray, if not friends, acquaintances; a reluctance to understand too much too well (because tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner and tout pardonner makes dull copy); an implacable hatred of spokesmen, administrators, lawyers, public-relations men, politicians and all those who would rather purvey words than policies; and the strength of character to lead a disrupted personal life without going absolutely haywire.

Not a bad checklist.

1 Comment on A good digestion and a steady head

  1. John Bryant // May 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm //

    Richard if you substituted “journalists” for “politicians” in Tomalin’s quote and you get a skills lists for politicians too..

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