Journalism: Ruthless Versus Nice

At the end of this saga, many journalists will be left standing, still with lovely jobs at glossy magazines, international news channels or at least, a regional political programme. But what sort of journalists will be left?

It's a funny business, journalism. I'm sitting at my desk on what is the final day of the contract I've had for the last year. I'm the Reporter for the BBC Politics Show in the South East. Or at least I will be for the next forty-five minutes. I've tied up all my loose ends and sent emails thanking various MPs and ministers for their invaluable contributions to the programme over the last twelve months. In reality I'd love to tell some of them that they were useless, evasive and downright incompetent. But I haven't. And that's because journalism is a funny business, but I'd like to carry on working in it.

The last day of any of my previous contracts has always brought an impending sense of doom; will I ever work again? What if this was my last job in telly? Am I any good at being a journalist? Do I ask too many questions? But today brings with it a bigger sense of doom than usual. Last week James Murdoch announced that the News of the World was to print its final, unscrupulous edition and it did, last Sunday. And today News International's Rebekah Brooks has finally resigned. Everyone is taking these events to mean that all the allegations of phone-hacking, of playing with the emotions of a murdered girl's parents, of bringing even more heartache to dead soldiers' families, are true. And more, that the News of the World and Rebekah Brooks were cutting their losses before even worse was revealed. With this comes the realisation that journalists are the new bankers and we all know what people think of them...

Now obviously at the end of this saga, many journalists will be left standing, still with lovely jobs at glossy magazines, international news channels or at least, a regional political programme. But what sort of journalists will be left? Usually, in a survival-of-the-fittest type scenario, it is the meanest, most ruthless people who prevail (it's hard to imagine that Rebekah Brooks' resignation will mean the end of her career). But in this situation, with the reputation of the British media severely bruised, might it be the nice journos who come out on top? Because believe it or not- and admittedly my own father eternally chooses not- there are nice journalists. I would know. I might not be climbing the career ladder at break-neck speed, but I'm also not leaving a trail of destruction behind me.

Take last week for example, my penultimate week as Politics Show reporter. I was working on a story about how a hugely disproportionate number of children with special educational needs make up those permanently excluded from school each year. I called the National Autistic Society to investigate further, only to find out that they just so happened to be launching a campaign the following week on a related topic and because of that, they had lots of lovely facts and figures that would strengthen my story. Only problem was, it wasn't launching for another week. So I managed to persuade them to let me use some of the information in my report a few days early. This was quite a coup, as the information wasn't yet public knowledge and would be considered an 'exclusive'. The elusive exclusive. Unless of course you're in the habit of listening to other people's voicemails, in which case exclusives presumably frequently find their way to you.

The next day the National Autistic Society called me to say that the Times Educational Supplement had got wind of the information and would like to run it too. The problem was the TES comes out on Friday, two days before the Politics Show airs. The press officer kindly said to me that seeing as I asked first then it seemed only fair that it was up to me; I could keep the exclusive if I chose, thus the TES couldn't run the piece (if only everyone did business this way). But in doing so, I would deprive an incredibly worthy charity of much needed publicity and arguably, readers of the TES -- presumably teachers -- are the people who should be reading about this. So I decided that the newspaper could have the information first, because that seemed fair and NICE. But it meant that using the facts and figures two days later wasn't too desirable and my boss wasn't keen on us looking like we'd 'copied' another journalist, so in the end I didn't use them. But ethically I made a good decision, right? Wrong. It turned out the TES changed their mind and didn't run the article at all. And it was too late for me to re-edit my report, so the losers of my attempt to do the right thing were the hundreds of autistic children who are excluded from school because people don't have a good enough awareness of the situation. The irony.

The moral of this story? Whilst I think that what the public wants right now is nice journalists, in this funny business it just doesn't pay to be too nice. And because of that, there will always be ruthless journalists, but if you know anyone looking for a nice one (considering turning less nice) I'm available.


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