Rules for the Modern Journalist — One More Time

In the spirit of being “green” (and mostly because I was looking
in the BTF archives anyway), following is a portion of a recycled blog post
from February 2006. I thought the information was still relevant and accurate, which also goes to show that while it’s easy to think things are changing
too fast, often they don’t change fast enough.

The Rules
The best journalism schools teach the Chicago Manual of Style, reporting
techniques and how to write a tight headline. These are all important – but the
rest of what they teach, by and large, is crap.

Why? Because no matter how good the teacher or the program, the rest can’t
be taught. This is the difference between vocation and profession – between
good stenography and good journalism. The former requires training; the latter
requires talent, drive and conscience.

The latter is what matters. And for journalism to matter, modern journalists
need to live by the following rules:

  • Be accurate, not objective.
  • Be honest and open – when you are right and especially when you are wrong.
  • Be responsible for your sources, your stories and your actions – editors won’t protect you, nor should they.
  • Listen to your audiences and learn from them – they know more than you do.
  • Stop reporting the news – start sharing it.
  • Name names.
  • Don’t be led – lead instead.
  • Ask questions – then question the answers.
  • Celebrate change; abhor conformity.
  • Reach people where they are, not where you want them to be.
  • Be a citizen first, journalist second.
  • Follow your heart, not just the story.
  • Be right, not first.
  • Be there for the First Amendment, or it may no longer be there for you.
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2 Responses to Rules for the Modern Journalist — One More Time

  1. Thiane says:

    Great post and you are absolutely right when you say that most things simply can´t be taught. Unfortunately, most media companies don´t allow their professionals to follow all the rules you listed above.
    Things like:
    * Be a citizen first, journalist second
    * Follow your heart, not just the story
    * Be right, not first
    don´t seem to bring money and have been forgotten pretty often.

  2. Wil says:

    More important than all of this (to me) is to ask questions that no else would have thought of. For example, “If Bush had not invaded Iraq, the question of WMDs would have gone unanswered – which would have made Bush look weak. Wouldn’t Bush have lost the 2004 election – since Kerry and other democrats (and Repubs) would have protested his inactivity? After all, Saddam would be appearing on a balcony day-in and day-out with a rifle in one hand, and a burning American flag in the other.”

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