Of being a storyteller

Someone asked me recently what it’s like to be journalist.

He said he was young and still figuring out what to do for his career and was curious about the profession.

Since I do actually love my job, I did my level best to tell him in a few sentences what my work was like. But looking back, I think those brief descriptions I tried to muster weren’t quite as adequate as I’d like them to be.

So I’d like to try, through this blog post, to put down in words what being a member of the media really is like.

But before I proceed, here’s a small disclaimer: this account of my experiences as a journo may differ quite significantly from that which others have faced, as I have taken the road less travelled, so to speak. I never did study journalism at university (although I had really wanted to, but that’s a story for another day), nor did I start off my foray into the working world as a writer. It’s taken some time to get to where I am today, and even this, I feel, is not quite the final destination I’m meant to arrive at yet. So take these words in, but do so with the awareness that I am probably just a rookie, and am still learning.

Now, let’s begin.

To inform and empower 

If I were to sum up what the primary duty of a journalist is, I’d say that it is tell stories. However, there is something that differentiates us journos from other writers such as the authors of a best selling novels: we tell stories that are based on facts, rather than fiction.

Aha. I’m sure some of you out there may be just about to scream bloody murder since apparently not all journos adhere to this principle very well. Yes, well, I’ll admit though that we do get our facts wrong at times (we are but human after all), but what I’m saying is that this is what we aspire to achieve. I cannot speak for those who deliberately twist facts though.

The other equally essential part of our role as reporters is that we are there to educate and inform the public.

If you put these two principles together, you basically would have the gist of what our job is about.

Now, let’s talk briefly about the implications of carrying out the two core duties of reporting which I have already mentioned.

Irregular routines  and random introductions

I’m not sure what other people actually prefer when it comes to work schedules, but I’m guessing most would like some degree of certainty. A predictable kind of routine.

Well, as journalists, we are often subjected to disruptions to our routine. Some new development could crop up on any given day, and with one word from the editor, you’d have to drop everything else you are doing and focus on getting that one particular story (usually of the breaking news variety) out.

On other so-called normal days, we still face a degree of unpredictability in our job in the sense that, for instance, we are handed out assignments just a day before. So, for example, I’d be told today that I have to attend an event in Putrajaya for a certain company’s product launch tomorrow.

Well, if you’re like me and enjoy it whenever a bit of variety is thrown into the work routine mix every so often, then I guess journalism would suit you fine.

Another thing worth mentioning is that you’ll have to get used to going out solo for most assignments. Getting a photographer to come with you is a bonus. But even then, you’re likely to only rendezvous at the venue. This is because both you and the photog would need to each have your own mode of transport to keep your own set of appointments on that same day.

Meeting new people all the time is a given, so although it’s not impossible to be an introvert and hold a job as a journalist, you do need a certain degree of boldness in going up to people and getting acquainted. And being unafraid to ask for whatever it is you need to get the job done, as bizarre as it may be. Hehe.

Writing it right 

And, of course, you cannot leave writing skills out of the equation when it comes to journalism. At the end of it all, no matter what traffic you had to endure to get across town to get your story, however tough it was coaxing someone to talk about something they’d rather not, regardless of what hour of the day it may be, you will still have to sit yourself down in front of a screen to hash out a story to be sent off to the editor’s lair.

Mind you, your job isn’t altogether done even though your draft has landed successfully in the editor’s queue.

You will next need to brace yourself for the brutal dissection of your prose and the interrogations that are likely to follow suit.

Editors (bless their dear souls, it is a tough job that they hold) will often need to ask you tons of follow up questions to clarify what exactly it was that you had meant in the paragraphs you had just crafted.

It may seem rather intimidating at first, especially since you’ll probably feel you had already done your level best to get every possible bit of information you could glean for the assignment. But somehow, mysteriously, horrendously enough, the editor will somehow manage to uncover some stone you had left unturned and ask you about it.

Not sure how other journos felt when faced with this scenario, but I always would get this sinking feeling  in my stomach and this worrisome thought that perhaps my job might be on the line should I be unable to answer my editor’s queries right away.

Well, it’s something to get used to, since it will often happen, but really, the worst that you will typically endure is a harsh scolding, but you’ll normally leave the editor’s desk with your job intact.

Just make sure that you do your best not to repeat whatever mistakes that the editor has called out, and you’ll generally be fine.

While I’m at it, I might as well say something else about writing while on the job. It’s not as much about perfect grammar and sentence structures as you think.

In journalism, it’s more about brevity and logical presentation of facts. I’m referring to news reports in this case. There are other types of writing styles that a journo will need to pick up in the course of his or her duties, of course, but that will require a bit more explaining, and I’ll leave that for another post.

So, in essence, if you have a fairly decent command of the language you’ll be reporting in, and have a functional brain that can think logically and arrange facts into neat, comprehensible sentences that the average man on the street could read and easily understand, then you have generally what it takes to write for the media.

In a nutshell

Well, there you have it, a little glimpse of what it’s like to be a journalist. There’s plenty of other details I could bring up, but so as to not be too overwhelming, these are the basic things you will face. I hope this post will help some of you out there who have been curious all this while about what journalism is really like.

And so as to make my life a little easier, I will probably refer those who ask me about my job to this post in the future. Hehe.

If for some reason you are reading this post and would like to ask me further questions about this profession, please feel free to drop me a comment 😉

 

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