JOURNALISTS are scabs, leeches, hounds and foxes! some will spit – er, I mean, protest. They are sometimes known as “hacks”, a colourfully descriptive term only a handful in the profession may take pride in, whilst the majority squirm at the mere thought of even being classed alongside it.
In my eyes, hacks are thick-skinned, tough-spirited media maggots (yet sometimes with the stereotypical, proverbial heart of gold, as is Al Pacino’s character in the film The Insider). Hacks are often portrayed as greasy, sweaty people with very sharp (read: cunning) minds, who wear shabby clothing and scramble mercilessly through other people’s affairs. They seek out hard-core facts and even harder-core fiction, which they then go on to expose to the world in the rawest and loudest of manners (all in the name of legendary objectivity).
artistic freedom There is a reason why hacks are the way they are, to be sure. But I personally prefer to be called a “journalist”, thank you. And when I occasionally reel with shame over what even that classic and open-to-interpretation description means to particular individuals, I narrow it down to “[creative] writer.” Many individuals in this profession also happen to be creative writers, actors, singers, musicians or artists. Maybe this is a positive way to use as well as escape from the often ugly, graphic, shocking neverending news they have to look at and listen to closely in order to transfer it with the world. When one thing makes you numb, you look for something else to stimulate you. Some are very talented in the more creative areas and manage to flourish whilst involved in their “second field” simultaneously. Others accept or conclude that they don’t have sufficient time for an equal commitment to their more artistic skills and place them in the hobby category, but are still reasonably successful. Others still are simply mediocre, or lousy, in terms of their creative aptness but can’t accept it and as a result become embittered wannabes. Perhaps they have never really made the effort to realise their artistic desires (probably because they know they can’t) yet cannot quite relinquish their dreamy faux aspirations, and thus make excuses for their lack of full-on commitment to a stimulating artistic career by working in journalism with a vengeance instead, and desperately clinging to, or humiliating, those who have “made it” in their dream-realm instead.
the path less travelled Some journalists aim to valiantly expose well-researched, weighty issues in order to open the eyes of the wider public to (what is often their perception of) reality. Others just want to get a free ride, become famous or acquire a taste of the good life that they cannot entirely produce for themselves. Those journalists whose professional, morality-founded integrity is quite intact, however, and who get the “perks” of the job without doing anything unprofessional to attract them, but won’t refuse them nonetheless, are well aware of the powerful weapon they hold. Wherever they may go, those members of the press who will not be bribed or otherwise corrupted are the scariest kind, because, like coal to a fire, essential new things to criticise, expose and talk about are actively sought out. Apart from being judgemental, they are also human, which means that if they are angered or unsettled by a certain behaviour or situation they won’t hesitate to let it be known (as I am not hesitating now).
personal vs public interest If certain, or most, journalists are of no use to the big cheeses, since just a few, senselessly-well paid, well-disguised hacks will do just fine for that, they try to visit the tropical paradise of their own world in more inventive ways. Those include: getting freebies, hanging with celebrity “friends” or procuring personal fame. FREE!bies include visits to places they wouldn’t normally be willing or able to afford, or gifts in the form of anything that can be paid for in the way of a clandestinely promotional article. Celebrity friends include people in the government, actors, directors, other journalists (the subjectively powerful ones with the big cheeses behind them), or good – never said honest – lawyers. Personal fame comes as a direct result of having celebrity friends, or via The By-Line, participation in fluffy TV chat-shows in which they can look sober and professional whilst climbing on their soap-box, and other media coverage such as the occasional glossy magazine spread under an asinine title. Why go into all this? Because it has to be said in order to reach my point. Most people of the eyes-wide-open variety are well-aware of all the above-mentioned goings-on, and that is why an irremovable crust of cynicism has been formed around the term “journalist.”
not a big deal That’s why it sometimes proves impossible to a journalist to be taken at face-value, and to not be suspected of wanting something in return for basic professional interest and coverage, the credit of which will go to the media organisation to which one belongs. Unfortunately, when a journalist approaches an individual for an interview here, there sometimes develops a surreal feeling of near-conspiracy. Sometimes you can almost hear the potential interviewee considering the simple request, and chiefly wondering: “What does this person want from me?” Whilst if they agree to be interviewed, one cannot escape the feeling of a weird tacit “deal” being made. The subject’s silent contract with the writer goes something like this: “I will play hard-to-get, OK, then eventually throw an incandescent glance towards you, as if I have suddenly realised that it may indeed be an attractive invitation, regardless of how extraordinarily in-demand I am. I will, however, continue to appear as though I am mulling it over – when I have the time to do so – and then (perhaps) finally accept. You will interview me and throughout I will be sickly-sweet and deceptively down-to-earth towards you, without, of course, neglecting to inconspicuously bring out must-mention examples of my thrilling character and highly enticing career status throughout our stimulating ‘conversation’. “Then you will write and publish your article about me, you lucky, lucky thing, and if I am in the mood to be nice, or simply am not too proud to indicate I have nothing better to do for those one-point-five minutes, I will call you and thank you, perhaps being kind enough to add a few clever nuggets of my constructive criticism on your writing-style/perception of me/ fact-making mission. If I am uncertain whether I want anything more from you or not, I may send you a symbollocks company gift, or serve up the foolish illusion that I’ve warmed up to you enough for you to happily consider I may be your friend, by inviting you to an event promoting me or even occasionally asking you how you are.” The End.
disillusion and absolution As a journalist, you of course don’t mind coming to the astounding realisation that the person you were genuinely interested in covering (and promoting) to the world, because you had considered the cause/work/talent behind him/her highly admirable, is actually an unappreciative, manipulative, arrogant and self-obsessed git, because now that the article on the person has been published you are rich, famous and deeply self-fulfilled. Not. Also, it’s a professional matter and not a social one, so why be such an imbecile to expect any inkling of humane appreciation for your efforts?
cheek-to-cheek “It takes two to tango” is one of the most indicative phrases ever created. It encapsulates the way any journalist looks at the inter-stellar domain. Writers need interesting subjects as much as the interesting subjects need them, but is the wild-goose-chase and its paltry aftermath really necessary? Journalists don’t need to waste their pressed time chasing people as if it were for their personal benefit to eventually reach them. There should be more cooperation. If I’m jerked around by someone I was originally and genuinely drawn to dedicating time and attention-drawing, I will not only lose my enthusiasm and esteem of that person, but will also feel frustrated, disapproving and, well, jerked around. Why should I eventually care to interview that person if and when they agree? There are always plenty more forms of life in the bottomless pit. Some commissioned writers unfortunately have no choice but to keep going at it and hounding down the individual in question, even if by the time of their eventual appointment/trap they are sweating malediction, not to mention disrespecting the ground way, way, way beneath that they once walked on.
hackers anonymous Empathise with journalists on the road to hackdom, and appreciate that when they stop washing their hair and caring about their wardrobe, when they begin to attach blush-inducing curses to any given name, and when they make it their sole aim in life to brutally expose “the truth,” it is perhaps because they have had their ego badly bruised, their enthusiasm shattered to bits and their idealism ridiculed. And they have nothing to show for it apart from a job-title that generally inspires little more than trepidation, if a little intrigue. It’s a vicious cycle really. And a shame, because the tango is a magnificently intimate, passionate and harmonious dance, if only both partners weren’t trying to lead, or stepping callously on each other’s toes. A gracious dancing partner, even one every blue moon, can be an unforgettable pleasure, and often the prime reason to keep one going in the quest for the next similar hexing-fix. A genuinely talented and skilled partner can swirl you and twist you in a fantastically effortless way, and you can do the same to them, feeling like you’re flying through a fresh breeze of summer flowers. Above all, you can come away certain that not only was your initial choice right, but that you’ve both done your best to make the effort appeal to the world, and not only appear, but actually have been, perfectly magical and incontestable in its result.
Published by Irina Maria Tracy