THE BLOG

Journalist? Psychopath? Same Difference

03/24/2014 04:25 pm 16:25:20 | Updated 22 May 2014

This probably won't come as a shock to you, but, as it turns out, we journalists are psychopaths. As are media types working in TV and radio. Our bad. According to Kevin Dutton's 2012 book 'The Wisdom of Psychopaths' at least, we're the six most psychopathic profession of all. Though we aren't quite as bad as CEOs or lawyers, looks like we're a pretty retched sort all the same.

The diagnosis does read a bit like a journalist's job ad, if I'm honest. Egocentricity? Check. Manipulativeness? Check. Stress tolerance? I should bloody well hope so. Just look at that Rebekah Brooks woman. Psychopathy embodied, right? Chief psychopath, if you will, commanding an army of psychopath minions called reporters - of which I can confirm there are a great number. Notable examples include James "I'm right about everything" Delingpole and Patrick "everyone's entitled to my opinion" Strudwick. (If you don't know who either of these are then...good, I'm sure they'll be pretty aggrieved about that).

Psychopathy can creep in all too easily in the world of journalism, as any reporter who's had an after-hours fight with some obnoxious public relations officer can attest to. (That's pretty much all of them, by the way). Seeing your name in a national newspaper on a daily basis is enough to turn even the most humble being into a fountain of narcissism. And if you think that's bad, just imagine how much appearing on national television would contribute to one's superiority complex.

Just getting into the industry in the first place is hard enough. Given an increasing number of candidates are vying for fewer and fewer positions, news organisations have little choice but to operate some form of natural selection in their recruitment. If you care about treading on someone's toes, you can be pretty damn sure some upstart hack is going to tread on yours, even if it is by accident. Evidently, we don't all end up tapping phones or harassing ordinary members of the public. That's a good thing. Civility and courteousness are qualities that are often overlooked in the reporter's arsenal, if only as means to an end of accessing newsworthy information.

Yet, as bizarre as it sounds, a hint of psychopathy is actually a prerequisite for public purpose journalism. Hear me out, non-psychopaths, because the ability to stay detached from ones feelings - one of the defining features of psychopathy - is absolutely integral to the kind of reporting we journopaths should be doing more of. If I start empathizing with a particular case study, it's almost certain to bias my output. If I've already decided where my heart lies, I'm not open to new information which could change the factually content of a story completely. If I care about hurting someone's feelings, I'm not going to pursue their dodgy dealings as far as I should.

Frankly, you shouldn't want me holding opinions, but neither should you want me pandering to other people's. You shouldn't want me caring that I badgered some poor public official for important information. I won't lose sleep if it leads to a public interest disclosure. You need people with the drive to continue pursuing stories are in themselves disgusting, horrific or flat out sickening, even when the going gets tough, because you should be able to read the facts about them if you think they're important.

The world would be a poorer place if all journalists were nice guys. We're meant to be keeping the powerful in check, not being friendly with them. If the purpose of the free press really is to be the objective eyes and ears of the public, then we shouldn't be afraid to get our hands dirty. After all, someone needs to keep tabs on people who are even more psychopathic than we are.