Wednesday, 8 July 2015

On writing

Ask a journalist why they decided to become a journalist.

Honest answers might include:

I'm really nosy


I'm a rampant narcissist who needs to feel all world events somehow inextricably involve me


I fear structure in my life (because of my father/mother/Catholic upbringing/unexpected death of a much-loved pet dog at an early age) 


I don't know; it just seemed cool before, you know, the internet and that.

Journalists never actually say any of those things. Instead, backed into a corner, they tend to say something like:

 I just wanted to write.

Now this is a terrible reason to become a journalist. The kind of writing people have in mind when they say 'I just wanted to write' is absolutely not the kind of writing that 90 per cent of journalists do 90 per cent of the time.

When people say 'I just wanted to write...', that sentence implicitly continues '...about the meaning of life'. Or '...about love and loss'. 

No one ever says, or means:

I just wanted to write about chip-pan fires being tackled using positive pressure ventilation fans


I just wanted to write about a procession of crackheads appearing in magistrates' court charged with a string of depressing low-level crimes.

Journalism isn't really about writing as expression. Nor should it be, not in essence. It is about writing as communication. 

It is about finding out what has happened, and telling people as clearly, efficiently and fairly as possible what has happened. 

This isn't glamorous, but it is hugely important; much more important than most people realise. 

It is what the legendary Guardian editor CP Scott had in mind when he said, "Facts are sacred, but comment is really annoying."**

What it isn't, though, is romantic. It doesn't fire the soul.

So here's the thing. I became a journalist because I'm a nosy narcissist who fears structure and wanted to be cool. And yet part of me still just wants to write.

Which is partly why I've started this blog. I might write about data journalism, or politics, or innovation, or anything that I feel I want to say. I honestly don't know.

I just feel I want a space to write.

(** This may be a slight misquote.)

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