Thursday, June 24, 2021

Janet Malcolm was famous for reminding American journalists that journalism is sleazy.
She was sophisticated enough to understand the distinction between journalists and writers, but was always more the former, with the passive self-effacement of self-hatred.

Marr: a passage I've used as a screen shot elsewhere, but never quoted.
Certainly British journalism is not a profession. Over the years they have tried to make it one. In the United States they have mostly succeeded. There, every year, tens of thousands of journalism graduates are turned out in a sophisticated production process – Squish, gloop, plonk journalist! Squish, gloop, plonk journalist! They are taught about the technical skills and the ethics, the heroes of American journalism and its theory. In the process they are moulded and given a protective gloss of self-importance. They have Standards and, in return, they get Status. In Britain it isn’t like this at all. Journalism is a chaotic form of earning, ragged at the edges, full of snakes, con artists and even the occasional misunderstood martyr. It doesn't have an accepted career structure. necessary entry requirements or an effective system of self-policing. Outside organized crime it is the most powerful and enjoyable of the anti-professions. No country in the world has been as journalism-crazed as Britain. Yet. broadly. we do not respect the people who deliver us the very thing we ache for.   
People get into journalism by mistake; or via some obscure trade magazines, or through writing pornography, or family connections. There are well-known journalists today who got in by starting as telephonists, printers or secretaries. Others, the winged ones, floated in from Oxbridge colleges straight to The Economist or Financial Times. Yet others had, besides their talents, the happy good fortune to be brought up in journalistic dynasties - to be a Coren, Lee-Potter, Lawson, Dimbleby, Wintour, Carvel or Dacre.   
However they got in, the vast majority are journalists because of an irresistible, scratchy need. People will sit for years in local news paper offices cold-calling the police and hospitals, try desperately to stay awake in local council planning or water and sewerage meetings, write about garden ornament design, accountancy vacancies for trade journals, and sit being bellowed at by drunken old news editor tyrants. And in the end many fail. We fail sideways; we go off and do something with easier hours and better pay, such as becoming a press officer or public affairs consultant for a company or public body. Or we fail upwards, discovering that we have a greater talent for writing novels, plays or film scripts, and then the good things of life, from mossy territories to first-class plane seats and daughters who know what Verbier is, fall softly into our laps. Or we…just plain. ordinary. everyday damn-it-can’t-pay-the-bills fail. But for those who want to be journalists, the wanting, the urgent desperation to be a hack is the only thing that really matters. 

repeats. back to the beginning.

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