There I was, hanging out at the local farmer’s market, minding my own business. The reporter from the local rag approached me. She was about to interview Ron Paul (yes, that Ron Paul) and had almost no idea what he was about. The reporter asked the farmer’s market lady if she knew anyone who knew something about Congressman Ron Paul. The market lady spotted me and knew I was politically aware.
Off the top of my head, I gave the newspaper reporter a bit about his background, current legislation he was involved in and a few of his favorite causes and issues. Then she ran off to do the interview. I’m curious enough that I will pick up a local paper to see how it all turned out.
To the average person, that looks like pretty slap dash journalism. Unfortunately, that’s the way it’s done. I do have a journalism degree gathering dust around here somewhere, so I’ve seen a bit of it from the inside. There is very little time to get up to speed on a subject and deadlines aways loom. Some journalist call it “feeding the beast.” As soon as you finish a story, it’s on to the next thing, with no time to catch your breath.
Sometimes a journalist will do an in depth feature article. Days or even weeks may be spent on research and writing. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to. Media outlets run at a faster pace these days. Readers, with their Twitter attention spans, don’t help much either.
My old journalism professor left his normal D. C. beat to spend two weeks in the deep south. He wrote a series of articles about people and places most of the world knew little about. From that point onward, he was considered the “Southern Expert.” The title embarrassed him. “I only spent two weeks in the South, I know nothing about the South.” While that was true, he knew more than anyone else at his big D. C. newspaper.
There just isn’t time to know everything about everything. However, that doesn’t mean a journalist won’t have to do an interview or an article at a moment’s notice. Younger journalists at least know how to Google a subject or look up a Wikipedia entry. It gives them a place to start.
The dream of many journalists is to write books: long leisurely books that dig deep and examine an issue in detail. Some go out and do it. Often it ends badly as either the journalist, freed from space limitations, won’t shut up already, or doesn’t change his style to fit the new format. Either way, it’s tedious. Once in a great while a journalist gets it right, and when they do it’s a fine piece of work. They get to do the kind of quality writing that “feeding the beast” doesn’t allow.
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