Never before in human history has it been easier to find information from a single location. Yet not every piece of discourse can be neatly packaged into news.
I dare not think of what being a journalist was like fifty, thirty, even just twenty years ago. There’s no pretending that the internet has made it much easier – for me at least – to produce a writer’s first, humble pieces of journalism.
Surely there are some nostalgics who look back fondly to the times when news came – if it ever did – from a chat at the counter, or from a phone booth call. Perhaps you were best buddies with someone at the police office, or the Crown Court, and they’d give you a tipoff flying over their superior’s head.
Even if such a reality ever existed, I doubt it allowed for better journalism than the one we do today. Those that think of modern journalists as little more than copywriters probably don’t understand the full potentiality of sources we have today.
Seminars and conferences
More than a good story can begin by going to that lecture your university has been promoting. They say it’s bad practice to expect your interviewee to tell you what the story is, but if you could invite that certain lecturer to have a private in-depth discussion, you might get occasion to dwelve on issues other journalists ignore. That is how I got the prompt for an article on the flaws of EU research funding (which, may I add, I’m rather fond of).
Of course, as the saying goes, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”: sometimes the numbers may look interesting on the surface, but actually be completely in the norm. In that case, however, it’s your job to debunk attempts to spin the figures in a misleading way. Governments often try to pass percentages as proof that they’re doing a good job with the economy, when actually they just fit in a routine trend.
FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests
Tony Blair probably didn’t realise how powerful a tool he was putting in citizens’ hands when he enacted the Freedom of Information Act. Being able to request any information of public interest is one of the best things to happen to journalists in years, and they were quick to make use of it.
Obviously, it takes practice to master the system, and there will occasions on which politicians will hold onto certain documents with their teeth. Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly powerful tool – and some people are understandably unhappy with that.
Of course, not all of this is possible in every country. Britain is an extremely transparent society, and thanks god for that. Some may say it’s a weakness when compared to other countries like Russia or China. We journalists, however, like to think it’s actually a sign of strength.