The Blog

What IS a Journalist?

Journalists like to know how does it feel, and what’s the mood here now. Journalists don’t like to know how the Social Security system really works. Journalists can be Anchors, but never Sales. They can be reporters, or just repeaters. A journalist looks down on celebrities until the day he becomes one. Journalists can’t resist: miracle puppies. children trapped in wells. killer bees. Journalists are more curious than anybody, attacked by everybody, and lent money by nobody.
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I hate polls. As a matter of fact, a few years ago, the eponymous Ms. Huff and I collaborated on a largely virtual cause, the Partnership for a Poll-Free America. The premise was that, whatever the truth or falsity of individual polls, the reliance on them was corrupting American politics, draining it of balls and leadership. This was before George W. Bush defied public opinion, and, with a few public-opinion-defying overseas pals, started the Iraq thing.

Normally, polls are quoted to show (a) how dumb the American people are, or (b) how the (choose political enemy) ignores the wisdom of the American people. But now comes a report courtesy of the AP, showing whom the American people regard as a journalist. Forty percent say Bill O’Reilly is one, versus 30 percent who so identify Bob Woodward. Hello, Deep Gag.

It’s reminiscent of the time, a couple of months ago, when journalists were agog at the unmasking of former-gay-escort-turned-White-House-briefing-softballer Jeff Gannon (alias James Guckert). At the time, Presidential flack Scott McLellan demurred from suggestions that Gannon/Guckert was a plant by insisting that it was neither the White House’s business nor its area of expertise to define who or what was a journalist.

I have a dog in this hunt. I covered the O.J. Simpson civil trial for Slate.com and KCRW Radio and, through a arrangement brokered by the station, shared a courtroom seat with a commercial radio reporter and a female reporter for NPR. One day, I arrived early and got the seat for some crucial testimony, only to have Miss NPR talk the court’s press aide into ousting me. “That seat,” huffed Miss NPR--who often filed her radio reports off the wire-service report--”is for real journalists.” Needless to say, I went back to my gay escort service with my tail between my legs. That, as it turned out, is the way the customers liked it.

So, for Miss NPR, and Scott McLellan, and 40% of the respondents to that poll, here’s some guidance (for best results, you should read it to yourself in Casey Kasem’s voice):

What is a journalist?

He’s a hard drinking, soft spoken, burn=up=some=shoe=leather, sit=on=his=hiney sort of son=of=a-gun who’s seen it all before, and can’t wait to see it all again.

A journalist is someone who gets shot at in a war zone so he can report back material that can’t be broadcast because it might be too disturbing.

A journalist is someone who reads TelePrompTer better than anybody, and writes better than the guy who just won the Pulitzer.

Journalists like:
deadlines.
bylines.
a bigger news hole.
free food.

Journalists don’t like:
deadlines.
editors.
cramped press facilities at major news events.
media whores.

Journalists like to know how does it feel, and what’s the mood here now.

Journalists don’t like to know how the Social Security system really works.

A journalist is often found at news conferences, presidential visits, crime scenes, hospice vigils, and the sites of major snowfalls. A journalist is seldom found advertising his services on a website for gay escorts.

Journalists sometimes make too much money getting out of the studio too seldom so they can mingle with other journalists who are resentful because they never get into the studio at all.

Journalists can be Anchors, but never Sales. They can be reporters, or just repeaters. A journalist looks down on celebrities until the day he becomes one.

A journalist spends too much time covering a story that gets too little space so it can be skimmed by a reader who has too little time.

Journalists can’t resist: miracle puppies. children trapped in wells. killer bees.

Journalists almost always resist: stories with three or more sides, computer terminals without a Nexis account, angles that might make their colleagues think they were flaky.

A journalist will fly halfway around the world to stand where a tsunami took place, and he’ll stand in freezing rain for two hours to point out that it’s wintertime.

Journalists are more curious than anybody, attacked by everybody, and lent money by nobody.

A journalist will share a quote, but won’t reveal a source. A journalist thinks the first amendment is the only one the founders really meant.

What is a journalist? A journalist is someone who earned pretty good money telling us what was really going on in the world, until he realized he could earn better money by telling us about the social lives of the people who earn really great money telling us fairy tales about the world.

A journalist knows: who’s got the best Rolodex.

who’s got the best satellite phone circuits. how much backlight he needs.

A journalist doesn’t know: where to find Kyrgysztan on a map. where to find the smart people in a small town. how you’re supposed to fit a five minute story into a 90 second hole.

A journalist is just like the rest of us...except he’s more tenacious, lazier, sloppier, got better hair, and does his best work in the comfort of the herd.

What is a journalist? Next time you see one, just ask him: how does it feel?