by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Yes, I is a journalist. And this is a serious piece of journalism you are reading. Don’t mind that it is on the editorial page or that I don’t have any training, experience or understanding of journalism. Or that I can’t spell without the help of a word processor that underlines every mistake in red. This is serious journalism here. Trust me.
In today’s fast-paced, blog-enabled, 24-hour news cycle world, I seem to be well qualified. Perhaps over qualified. After all, I have written something I profess to be true – fact-checking is too old-school here – and I have declared myself a journalist. That should do it.
Isn’t journalism great? No other profession does such a bad job of policing its trade that anyone can join the ranks of those journalists who have foolishly devoted themselves to learning the trade – and probably make more money at it.
Take my fellow journalist Bill O’Reilly. What a talent. By fiat alone, he has become an “award-winning broadcast journalist.” As you might have heard, he has won an Emmy – one of journalism’s highest awards; right up there with the Oscars. And he is “fair and balanced.” Me too. And for years, he was able to claim right to “winning several Peabody” awards (an actual award related to journalism). Unfortunately, one of those old-school fact checkers found out it was not true, and he had to cross that one off the résumé.
The good news is that it was not a fellow journalist who called Bill on this oversight. It was a former Saturday Night Live comedian. So Bill and I are still safe from any real scrutiny, at least if I can get Deja Vu’s Tribune subscription canceled fast enough.
Another new friend and colleague of mine is Matt Drudge, who publishes his own hard-hitting journalism on the prestigious Internet. Matt is a modern Svengali of journalism who figured out that, instead of needing his own press to avoid the criticism of editors and the bother of fact-checking, he just needs his own Web site. Now he publishes with impunity, adding just enough self-praise and promotion to get himself invited to just about every legitimate news show and rack up his own list of coveted journalism awards, including a “webby.”
Some of the “traditional” journalists have realized the foolishness of their fact-checking ways and have come to embrace the new journalism. Judith Miller was a longtime “traditional” journalist whose severe criticism of Bill Clinton’s policies allowed her to embed herself in the neoconservative government of George W. Bush and apparently take over the newsroom of The New York Times. Now that’s the power of the pen.
So if you, too, are considering a career as a journalist, let me make a few suggestions. First, be always ready to counterattack an editor or one of these fact-checking journalists who might criticize your work. Accuse them of bias – or, better yet, liberal bias. This is their Achilles heal, and this is no time to show mercy.
Second, ingratiate yourself to those in power – there apparently are lots of government contracts for serious journalists who can effectively transcribe a White House press release into an award-winning article. This is how my friend Judith got her big break. And if you know how to write in Arabic, you can really rake in the dollars now. There might even be a Peabody award in it for you.
Third, get in while you can. Who knows? Publishers, editors and reporters might get enough backbone to enforce standards of journalistic professionalism and ethics.
Just kidding. As long as money, not “quality,” is the measure of journalistic success at Knight-Ridder, News Corporation, Gannett and the other few companies that control 90 percent of what we read, hear and see, there will always be a place for another fellow “journalist.”