Comunicamos is a UTAD university blog dedicated to Journalism and headed by João Simão. He’s been doing a great effort regarding online journalism, involving students in creating online journalistic contents, and developing projects for to be journalists, but also for professionals. In his brand new wiki CCPedia he’s gathering resources and profiles, and different views and experiences in Journalism. He sent me a few questions, and here’s my insight.
1 – What made you want to be a journalist?
I always read newspapers and thought how great was all the stir around them. My dad always worked in cafés and when i was a kid i saw the costumers discussing the news of the newspapers in hand (usually sports), and become fascinated with what those sheets brought. With time i started to realize the role and value of journalism, especially with television. I can say that my generation is the one who saw the most historical moments live: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela, the first Gulf War, 9/11, etc. In fact, television showed in the news a country and a world i wasn’t aware of, and couldn’t see anywhere else. But the thought that i could watch History live was decisive, i believe that to be a good journalist you must like History and stories. Then there was always a side of social and civil responsibility that i always cared about, what makes journalism valuable is to inform society in a comprehensive way about the world around it. Who understands the map will know how to guide by it better, and like i said a few times, an enlightened and informed society will make better judgements. Maybe that’s why things are the way they are.
Besides, the image of the adventurous, travelling journalist, dealing with famous people also weighed in. But the job has been more glamorous…
2 – Which positive and negative aspects do you highlight about the job, in Portugal and in the rest of the world?
What i really like today is that we can have all the information everywhere, and as information producers/managers this is the most fantastic age for journalists. Of course there’s some misguidance in corporate philosophies and structures which leads them to too many mistakes, but some ships will have to sink. Unfortunately that implies human costs, and i believe there is an unjustified widespread panic about the future of journalism: i think journalists were never needed as they are today, but they must find a way to survive, and in a market dominated by big media companies, slow and resistant to change, disaster is pending. But it’s incredible how fast we can get and spread information, get in touch with people from around the world in real time and have access to stories that before were limited by geography and speed of traditional media. This has also shattered the traditional information circuit, since the non-journalist citizen (which is a small subversion to the citizen journalist concept) can have access to the same information and broadcast it via it’s own media. This doesn’t overshadow the work of a trained professional, that can work with these elements and develop a product that otherwise alone wouldn’t be able to, and in different formats. It’s a matter of journalists re-evaluate their relationship with their audience.
The negative aspects are the same i saw 15 years ago: the laziness, the dishonesty, the favouring, the delusion of grandure that the job brings (few journalists are really great professionals, and even fewer are great human beings, which is of more importance): i’ve seen too many journalists acting like they were the center of the attentions, actor in a real stage where in fact the stories don’t belong to them nor they have the leading role, but there are a few that mistake journalism with performing arts. The lack of independence is something scary especially in a country as samll as ours, and now and then it happens to everyone to bow to inattentive wills, but the worst is when that happens sistematically and under the cover of of a personal, political or economical agenda. There is always someone pretending to be a the paladin of truth and independence when there are personal interests involved, damaging to the audience, because they publish the truth they want and not the one they should. And nowadays who lives off plagiarism is playing with fire, it´s more difficult today to be lazy, incompetent and dishonest because the audience knows what they want, and they want the best. Unfortunately there are many companies that promote this carefree culture, and i see some brands degrading rapidly…
Other unbearable situation is the existence of newsrooms the live off the interns, three months at a time. Besides being exploitation of cheap labor, the quality of the news gets worse. The union, the professional license comission ask a lot to journalists but nothing to the corporations, and in Portugal i feel these two institutions quite useless, showing up only in corporative actions, like when defending an associate in court, which they still do. But they compromise with this situation, and their contribution for a better state of journalism in the country is ineffectual, and their efforts totally out of phase with reality.
And finally, the worst of all: i see young journalists completely out of touch with reality, with scarce knowledge in History, Portuguese, unwilling to understand what they see, without knowing who the “other” is and what drives him, without understanding the causes of the event, and obviously unable to ponder the consequences. I was dazzled by Journalism because it looked like a job for smart people, but there is a lot of intelligence missing among young journalists. But some people already told me that it’s not really as bad as i put it.
3 – How do you see the future of journalism?
Better than many imagine. The activity has won with the new technologies, and there are more things that a well trained and prepared journalist can do inside the news machine. We’ll just have to stop thinking that the media is a pedestal or tribune, and understand that it is something that interacts, lives among and from their audience. There is so much to change and much more to invent and re-invent. But i believe it will be better, more effective an appealing. I don’t believe in the death of journalism, that must be the second oldest job in the world: people have the need to know who they are, where they are and happens in the places they move about, to understand how the fragments that build their view on the world work together to locate themselves in it. Never this much information has been created and consumed like today. Since information is the product of journalism i only hope good things, but maybe it’s the Phoenix myth. It’s a time for adventurers and pioneers, and not all generations can brag about living in days like these.
4 – What aspects do you believe to be fundamental in Journalism teaching in Portugal?
The bad: too many courses, curricula out of touch with reality, and poor conditions. The good: it’s improving and fast. In the first class of a Journalism course there should be someone trying to convince the students to change to something else. Like in many other professions this one implies some sort of vocation, and many are accidental tourists. Many others find their calling to be be journalists, but the selection of the students should be more demanding, and above all, realistic. But since teaching is a business of course this is impossible. But remember, you don’t need a degree to be a journalist, but those who have will surely have to be better than those who don’t.
Journalism teaching in Portugal must be re-evaluated, and there should be more investment in labs and projects inside the universities, and create company creation centers, so students can create their own jobs, as the job market is full. And above all, people must understand that beyond providing a solid knowledge base, it is more important to help students to see the world in a broader way, that is the value of the college experience.
And that’s about it. Any questions, remarks or hate mail can be dropped in the comment box below.