media update’s Aisling McCarthy uncovers the truth behind some of the myths about working in the journalism industry.

MYTH 1: Journalists twist everything you say

There is a misconception that when speaking to a journalist, one should expect their words to be twisted and misinterpreted in order to fit the journalist’s MO. Considering the profession is built around truth and uncovering what is really going on in the world, this is a particularly damaging misconception.

All media houses have a code of ethics, which the journalists follow. The Mail&Guardian’s ethics and social media policy explicitly states that accuracy is a key element of their reporting.

“Our first duty is to report accurately. We will take care to evaluate information provided to us and to cross-check it as much as possible before publishing,” it says.

It also states that media houses must offer certain corrective measures regarding their articles, if deemed necessary, “where an article may have led to a mistaken impression”.

Graeme Raubenheimer, radio news anchor and journalist for Heart FM News, tells media update that this idea of words being twisted by journalists is completely untrue.

“That we’re all out to manipulate and twist what we report on – that’s bullsh*t. This industry is chock full of talented media professionals who work very hard to bring [people] the truth.”

Fact checking is an integral part of any journalist’s workday as posting “alternative facts” can cost a journalist their reputation. Freelance journalist Lwandile Fikeni says that many media houses are waking up to the importance of truth.

“I think most news outlets, especially in America, with the advent of ‘Trumpism’, are waking up to this fact. The New York Times, for instance, is currently re-branding itself as the media agency that is deeply invested in truth. I think this going back to the basics of the profession, which will hopefully re-establish the integrity of the profession.”

Raubenheimer offers advice for aspiring journalists, highlighting the importance of truth in reporting.

“Punch above your weight and religiously practice fact-checking. Don’t be a push-over, and always stand up for what is right.”

MYTH 2: Social media is a necessary tool to be successful

With the rise of technology and social media, there is the idea that, in order to be successful, social media is the way to go. However, Fikeni believes that this is not necessarily true.

“I think the biggest misconception is that, in order to be a journalist, you must also be hip on social media. I think this comes from journalists themselves. It's a phenomenon that came with the ubiquity of social media, which made journalism [into] tabloitism,”

Journalists are expected to be proficient in all kinds of multimedia nowadays, and Raubenheimer says that this can cause a decline in the quality of work produced.

“Young journalists must be prepared to do it all: reporting, social media, pictures, videos, etc. That in itself poses a big problem for the industry, as juniorisation of the shrinking newsrooms takes hold.”

The best way to combat this effect? Raubenheimer suggests to ensure that there is a good senior editor in charge to control the quality of work going out and that, ultimately, good reporting skills are imperative.

Despite the rise in reporting on social media, Fikeni says that real journalism is what happens outside of social media.

“Real journalism is performed away from the public and the likes and retweets; it's in the research that goes into the story. However, most journalism now deals with surface utterances, or rather, with opinions. And I think that this hinders the profession greatly.”

Social media can also be a means to harm one’s credibility, and Fikeni questions whether people would read – and believe – the story of someone whose subjective position is obvious due to their social media timeline.

“Alternative facts arise from the belief that the journalism of today is nothing more than opinion. Anyone's opinion, as we know, is valid. Social media has, in a way, blurred the line between objective facts and subjective opinion.”

MYTH 3: Journalism is an average 9 to 5 job

A job in journalism is not for the faint of heart, as it requires numerous after-hours work and a huge amount of behind-the-scenes work. When working on a story, particularly in the age of fake news, Fikeni says time is always a precious commodity.

“With short deadlines it is often difficult, if not impossible, to really invest time into a story and to check all the facts before going to print. In this information highway of instant likes and clicks, we will find more stories that are either half a story or not a story at all.”

He continues, saying that although time is short, it is necessary in order to produce good quality work.

“Media companies in America have woken up to the need for trusted sources of truth in this post-truth era. Truth takes time because mining facts and checking them against opinion also takes time.”

This lack of time and constant need for stories to be published is what makes the job so difficult, says Raubenheimer.

“[Journalists] work long, abnormal hours, and, more often than not, your work can take precedence over your personal life. That’s because journalists these days are expected to wear many hats and juggle an increased workload. Couple that with a lack of resources and you’ve got a recipe for one giant, sweaty, festering ball of stress.”

MYTH 4: Bloggers do the same job as journalists

With the ease of producing content online, many people believe that the role of journalists is the same as that of a blogger. However, professional journalists will disagree.
Writing for Social Media Explorer, journalist Jason Falls says that the key difference between blogging and journalism is fairness.

“A piece of journalism, even an editorial or opinion piece, written by a trained and ethical journalist, at least attempts to give opposing sides or viewpoints an opportunity to respond before the article is published.”

He says that bloggers, on the other hand, just publish – whether their piece is one-sided or not. Owing to the nature of blogging, people who want to respond can do so in the comments.

Considering that anyone is able to publish an article online, Fikeni says that ethics and training are vital to separating journalists from bloggers.

“You don’t need a journalism degree to be a tabloid journalist. You don’t need to know the press code to publish or broadcast on social media. But for the kind of journalism that is needed today, ethics are paramount. I think a distinction must be made by the profession itself between hip, tabloid journalism and journalism as the pursuit of truth.”

MYTH 5: Journalism is all work and no play

Despite its long hours and intense nature, the idea that journalism is no fun is an utter misconception. Raubenheimer says that being a journalist is about following your passion, and each day is different.

“There’s always something new and interesting to turn to. But, naturally, being a journalist means you are pursuing a passion, and that in itself can be rewarding.”

Fikeni jokingly says, “[The best part of the job is] the free food at news conferences,” but that the opportunities afforded to journalists are unlike anything else in other professions.
“Honestly, though, the best part, I'd say, is being in the front row of events that have a potential to change the course of history.”

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Plagiarism is an issue which journalists often have to deal with, particularly in the online era. Read more in our article, A journalist’s guide to combatting online plagiarism.