Anyway, I am happy to share with you the “tricks of the trade” that I have learnt in my many years of pounding the pavement looking for great scoops, wearing out my shoe leather in the pursuit of a story that would break something or other wide open. This will be most helpful to any of those of you who are naïve young ankle-biters hoping to get a slice of the riches awaiting you in the media industry, as well as those of you who are already journalists, but need some pointers because you’re not as smart as I am.
The first thing you need do, to be a decent journalist, is make sure you have a photo of yourself at the top of all your articles. An article without a photo at the top of it is just an article; but an article with a photo at the top of it is a serious message to the reader. It says to them, “Look into my eyes. Can’t you see I’m doing this for you? You can trust me. You can love me. I bring truth and enlightenment to your life, and all you have to do is let your gaze wander south…” Basically, the photo at the top of the article is the subtle seduction you need to ensure that the reader is properly engaged with the intellectual coitus that is about to begin. Also, people might recognise you in the street and ask you to autograph their buttocks.
But journalism is not all about photos, even though it mostly is. It’s also about finding things out. This is quite an important part of the journalism equation: just as you can’t watch television without first plugging the set in, you can’t actually write words about issues until you know what those issues are. Basically, if you try to write without finding things out, you are a broken television set, or to be more accurate, a working television set that isn’t switched on. Which is even worse than a broken one, given it contains all the potential to provide entertaining programs, but remains silent and blank. Is that what you want your career to turn out as? Blank, silent, staring straight ahead like a vegetable? No? Then, listen to me, and make sure before you write anything, you plug yourself in.
A good example of the above would be, if you were writing a story about, say, immigration reform. Now, the amateurish way would be to just charge in like a bull at a gate and scribble down, “Immigration reform, eh? What a to-do!” But that won’t get anyone anywhere. You need to read some books/Wikipedia pages about immigration reform, talk to or email people who are involved in immigration reform, look up “immigration” and “reform” in the dictionary, before you can get to grips with the subject matter. That way, instead of just desperate flailing of the limbs, your article will contain many deep and pithy insights about the subject, like “Immigration reform is a vexed issue in today’s Australia” or “There are a lot of black people around, have you noticed that? WTF right?” Then you will seem informed, and in conjunction with the photo, people will know that what you have written is worth reading.
But obviously it’s not enough to know things — the art of journalism is telling those things to other people. A lot of journalists forget that. They go out and find something out, and then at the crucial moment, they forget all their training and just make something up. There is, you will find, a very important nexus between what you know, and what you should write. Some people express this as “Say true things and do not say things which are not true”. Some people express this as “Write what you know, you idiot”. I like to express it as “Those things and these things should be the same”, because I think it’s quite catchy, even though I usually have to embark on a long-winded explanation immediately afterwards because it’s a bit vague.
The point is this. Journalism is a 3-step process. Step 1: Have your photo taken. Step 2: Find something out. Step 3: Write about what you found out. You have to make sure you neither skip steps, nor add new ones, like Step 4: Set fire to the paper; or Step 2 ½: Get dressed. Don’t over or under-complicate things. And make sure those steps are in fact the ones you follow. Don’t swap in “Make some shit up” for Step 2, or “Whisper it menacingly down the phone line” for Step 3, or even “Don’t get your photo taken” for Step 1. All of those would be very bad ideas.
So, journalistic neophytes, there are my secrets. Remember the three Es of journalism: Exposure, Elaboration, and…Estuaries? Empanelment? Something like that. Look, you’ll be fine. Just remember to always seek the truth, and blame teenagers whenever possible.