Law & Politics

The death of traditional journalism

Journalism is a humble activity, or at least it should be. To be a reporter in a newsroom is to be continually confronted with severe obstacles to uncovering the truth.

In the past, the way to deal with that was to practise disinterest: avoid personally interfering with the story. But, because of the rise of advocacy journalism, that approach has changed, leaving the trade in a greatly diminished state.

Journalists spend most of their working lives in a state of unavoidable ignorance. If, for instance, a reporter interviews an expert, that person will typically have spent decades developing their knowledge. The journalist will, at best, have spent only a few hours on the matter. The way to address that inevitable imbalance is to represent, as fairly as possible, only what the interviewee is saying and no more. No personal opinions allowed.

More experienced journalists do develop some depth of general knowledge if they specialise in a subject area. But even then they should be careful about thinking they know more than the people to whom they are talking.

The second obstacle facing journalists, especially those who have worked in business and finance sections (as this writer has), is being constantly confronted with tactics to conceal the truth. The techniques are legion: outright lying, red herrings, misleading but true facts, half truths, quarter truths, lack of context, deceptive jargon, false or misleading statistics, lobbying by astro-turf organisations, threa...


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About David James

David James has been a financial journalist for 28 years. He was a senior writer and columnist at BRW for 25 years, a senior journalist at AAA Banking magazine, an editor and writer for stockbroker JB Were & Sons and a journalist at The Melbourne Herald. He has a PhD in English Literature from Monash University and now works as a freelance journalist and editor.

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