Believe it or not, it’s World Press Freedom Day! It might not be one of the most well publicized celebration or awareness raising days, with the absence of it’s own quirky Google logo…but nonetheless it’s a hugely important reminder of the role of freedom and independence in the press for democracy.
This year is a particularly notable one for remembering the importance of freedom in the press, only yesterday did The Office for Fair Trading rule that Rupert Murdoch’s price cutting strategies should be stopped. News of the World journalists were condemned for their malpractices, compromising fairness and ethics in the British press. Changes that have taken place throughout the Arab Spring have also shone light on the immense role in openness and freedom, played by journalism, as regime changes see Middle Eastern reporters approaching newspaper editors with stories that they once would not have dared.
So in light of these events and scandals, it is necessary as an aspiring journalist to consider not only how to become a journalist but how to become a good journalist. In Chris Frost’s book: Journalism Ethics and Regulation, he identifies that a journalist must make a moral decision whether to be loyal to their newspaper by sensationalising stories, making it more marketable, or, loyal to the reader by providing truth and accuracy. Frost argues that a good journalist, attributes technical skill with moral judgement. As morals and ethics are subjective and differ according to each individual, the qualities of a good journalist are personal, yet the recent mistakes made by others certainly highlight how bad decisions with negative outcomes can be made.
After watching ‘The Shock Doctrine’ documentary based on Naomi Klein’s book by the same name, I couldn’t help but be pulled in by the thought provoking questions it raised and so had to do a bit of reading in to conspiracy theory and anti-government based blogs, forums and articles.
I’m a firm believer in the news and journalism being a key element of democracy and its fundamental service is to the people, not the state and so was quite dismayed to see many posts blaming the media for aiding corruption and unethical action by the government.
Images such as the ones below, I feel are a type of propaganda in themselves, rallying supporters for their cause which reduces the public to passive, uncritical consumers of media and creating further fear and distrust. I believe that many creators of such images and blogs take a particularly pessimistic view of society that is unrealistic. No matter what kind of newspaper you buy or television program you watch, I feel that it is far more likely for the public to discuss and debate with friends about the views presented in them.
Many themes against the media that come up focus around network television and mass mind control and mass media indoctrination. Whilst it would be naive to deny any sensationalism, party-political leaning or indeed unethical motivations in the media industry, I feel that it is important for us to appreciate and respect the press, in order to use it to build and aid democracy.
With the bloodiest and most violent events in recent years to have taken place during the Arab Spring, last year saw a record death toll for journalists and their photographers. As societies rebuild and adjust to the overthrowing of dictators such as Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi; significant changes are being seen throughout the media in the Middle East.
Reporting from the front line of protests and uprisings, Arab Spring journalists faced teargas, beatings, torture and imprisonment in order to share the vital developments taking place with the rest of the world. Having to take such great risks requires great bravery from journalists, who, despite the violence and attacks they face, do not carry weapons. Journalists must remain unbiased and neutral throughout their time reporting events, even in the face of human rights abuses, the roles of journalist and political activist must remain separate. In order for fairness, truth, responsibility and trust, journalists must respect their role, through not taking part in protests and demonstrations.
The 1947 Geneva conventions protect journalists as citizens in conflicts; however, if a journalist takes action, making themselves a participant in the conflict, they can be directly targeted. In certain countries journalists have been specifically targeted during conflicts, such as CNN reporters entering Iraq in 2002 who received threats.
Training for reporters covering armed conflicts, dealing with hostile environments is offered by British security forces. Whilst this equips journalists with survival skills such as negotiation and weapon identification, having a fundamental understanding of the role of journalists seems to be the most important factor in conflict reporting. Importantly, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement issues safety guidelines to journalists in conflict zones which provide vital safety information, country by country, they also offer a hotline for journalists in areas of conflict to call in times of danger.
Whilst measures are in place to protect the independence of journalists in conflict, it is the opinion of some that resources for journalists are inadequate and more needs to be done to ensure their safety.
As my uni course draws to an end and I finish off these last few assignments, I step out in to the ‘real world’ with thousands of other soon to be graduates in the search of a job.
Whilst the daunting prospect of competing in the media industry, aiming for a career in journalism, feels intimidating, here are some tips and advice I’ve come across in my search so far…
It’s no secret that experience is a hugely valuable asset, in any industry, but this does not necessarily mean that those with less than so many years of working in the industry, need not apply. Whilst internships and work placements have with some, gotten a bad reputation, they are more often than not a lot more than making the tea. Speaking to other students I’ve often sensed negative feelings towards internships that has led to them approaching placements with caution and cynicism. Of course it is important to really know the company or organisation that you are applying to work for before you jump in, but at the same time, placements should also be met with optimism. Certain organisations, such as the BBC offer placement students a variety of training courses to develop them professionally as well in the specific skills required of the role.
Whilst interning with the British Red Cross I was able to complete several training courses which provided me with transferable skills which could be applied to any industry such as team work and problem solving. One thing that I do feel regretful about is not making the most of the different media opportunities available at university whilst studying. Through spending a lot of time being indecisive about what I really wanted to do, I decided to focus a lot of my attention on volunteering, even though the opportunities were there to get involved with the university newspaper or magazine. This would have given me valuable experience and also shown my desire to work within the media industry to future employers, had I made the most of them.
I now intend to continue to develop my skills and experience through completing further internships as I apply for jobs.
Last week we completed the first assessed part of our journalism unit. This compromised of writing a news story for a brief which was provided by our tutor within a set amount of time, which I found to be a daunting and difficult task and had dreaded before stepping in to the classroom. My temptations to edit and re-edit sometimes distort my concept of time when writing, I could spend hours reading over and making changes to things I’ve written, without even really making any kind of development. I think, or at least tell myself, that this slow and sometimes irritating method of working is a result of a lack of confidence in my writing, it comes from a reluctance to commit to ideas and words, wanting to keep them in my head rather than make them permanent by putting them on paper.
After looking for writing tips from journalists on the web, I’ve come across many others who experience the same feelings when it comes to writing. Some suggestions I’ve found include outlining stories in your head rather than plotting them out on paper. I’m definitely guilty of spending almost as much time making notes about things like what I’m going to include in the story and the order I’ll make my points, as I do actually writing it. I think that whilst it is important to plan and organize your thoughts, it is equally as important to get some words down so that you can structure your story as you go.
Another tip I have come across is writing the story in one go from start to finish. You can go back, make changes and add in information once you’ve completed a first draft but I agree with the idea that the story will have a more natural flow and progression if you write it all in one go, rather than starting and coming back to it part way through.
The exercise was certainly useful and interesting as it clearly showed us things like the type of quotes to use in news stories. As all the information we needed for the story was there presented to us, it was just a case of us selecting the most important and relevant details to include. It was interesting to see the importance of the source of a quote, for example; there were some quotes that seemed more relevant to the story or may have given more information but were from a member of the general public, this would have come second to a source from say a local celebrity or someone of particular interest, even if their quote might have less information or relevance.
Overall I think that practice does make perfect or improvements at least, and the more writing you do the easier it becomes. I’m now in the process of working on a story based on Bournemouth’s refugee community and how public sector cuts are effecting them, hopefully with the help of the International Care Network based in Springbourne, story to follow…