Journalists should have life experience

Journalists should have life experience.

Does a journalist’s background matter? Not for the individual journalist, reader or listener it doesn’t, but a publishing enterprise benefits from having a diverse group of people. This is even more important today than it was 20+ years ago.

In previous eras, journalists were reporters. Their key skills were shorthand, typing, observation and curiosity.

As an editor I liked to employ people from different backgrounds. It meant they had diverse networks and sources.

Like most things I do it was intuitive and reactive. If I had four similar employees and one left, I sought to replace him or her with someone different.

While Editor in Chief of The Border Watch, I responded to a student’s questionnaire about journalist training.

I mentioned how I like to employ school leaver cadets using a merit-based assessment system.

After answering the questions, the student responded:

It is great to see The Border Watch offers opportunities for entry level cadets (especially when a number of the metropolitan dailies now require not only a degree, but also several years of industry experience). I think journalism should be a career that is accessible to a wider range of people than just the graduates of the top journalism schools, and it is a pity there appears to be less and less opportunities for others.

The response made me wonder if the industry was becoming elitist.

Journalists my age had all heard stories of the previous generation spending two years on shipping reports or racing results before writing a story.

By employing university graduates I questioned if we had relegated talents such as curiosity, eye for detail, shorthand, impartiality and determination. I think we did.

Are too many journalists academic achievers without an understanding of grassroots reality? Possibly.

Training a journalist from scratch provides an opportunity to constructively cultivate an individual’s personal skills over several years.

The student’s comment that “journalism should be a career accessible to a wider range of people than just the graduates of the top journalism schools” is a good one.

Providing the individual has good English, curiosity, confidence, strong general knowledge and a polite manner there is no reason they couldn’t make a good journalist.

Modern journalists lack experience

Update: How does this message apply in 2018? I think it’s the same. Anyone who’s reporting or commenting on current affairs should have relevant life experience.

The big shift in my time as a journalist was from reporter to commentator. As a young cadet, I learnt to suppress my opinions and simply report what I saw and heard. Today’s journalists are expected to interpret the news and explain it.

It’s disappointing that young journalists today are given responsibility greater than their experience as a matter of course.