This is a much more interesting question than those of my readers who are not journalists will realise. So please, those non-journalist readers, bear with me while I explain.
When I awoke for the second time today, I did my usual checks to find out what was happening in the ‘real world’ today. Amongst my searches was the web site of Jeff Jarvis, who is a man of many parts, as will become clear later. One of the many things he does is a column for The Guardian, which is how I first became aware of his existence.
This morning at BuzzMachine, he launched a devastating critique of an article in the New York Times, entitled, ‘Scoops, Impact or Glory: What motivates journalists?’ backed up with many direct quotes from the NYT article. I was so impressed with Jarvis’s reprise that I dashed off an impulsive comment on his site praising the article.
Then I read the article in the NYT. It is a very thoughtful article, based on interviews with the journalists who work for the NYT today. And I was cheered. From what I read the NYT is making a serious attempt to get over the disasters of recent years and is once again a doughty champion of decent serious journalism as I understand it.
When I thought about the two articles together I decided to do a blog myself on the subject. My starting point was that this battle about what motivates the journalist did not highlight the most important factor of all. The pay cheque. This was what James Cameron, the British journalist. (My link takes you directly to him, not the currently much more famous man who is a film director.) Cameron is not a hero of mine because the only time I met him he was totally and utterly pissed. But I have read his work, and I think it ought to be read by all journalists, journalism teachers and journalism students today.
So how come Jarvis and his amazingly technicolour Buzz Machine, ignores the pay cheque as a motivator of journalist behaviour. Because he takes multiple pay cheques himself. Check his website. Part of the bread he earns comes from his role as an associate professor of City University, New York. Which employs him presumably because he is capable of thinking about the complex problems facing the media today.
But from the evidence of his own website he has left himself no time to think. Just look at what he has done today. He has gone on from writing about the NYT to other topics. Not pausing to think.
If you doubt my judgment follow this link. Jarvis is not an ‘impartial observer’ of matters NYT. He has actually been taking their shillings. He has been taking money from the NYT as a corporate entity. But he has not yet got a contract from the newspaper, which is renowned to all journalists as one of the finest newspapers in the world.
Read this from his own stuff, which is better than most in attempting to disclose his own biases. Very commendable. But it does not mean that he is aware of all his own biases.
Here is the quote from Jarvis.
Business ties: I now consult for The New York Times Company at its About.com and sometimes for the New York Times Online but not as of now for the newspaper, though I have spoken with management there and know various staffers.
So his attack on the NYT man, Byron Calame, is also a bid to get the NYT to employ him as a consultant of the newspaper as well!
Fast forward to what is happening in British journalism teaching. Adrian Monck, who was rescued from an unhappy life working for commercial television, is now spending a vast amount of his time, peddling the sort of ill-thought out claptrap . And all with the excuse that he is a Professor of Journalism. So he does not have to follow the academic verities, and reference his gossip to the learned journals.
Both Monck and Jarvis miss the point, which James Cameron never made, although it is clear in his work.
Which is that journalists also think. And that the ability to think for themselves, not to slavishly follow the current fashions, is what makes for a good journalist.
What motivates journalists is an interesting question. But that does not dictate everything that happens in the media. Much of what happens is determined by the big companies who pay the journalists’ pay cheques.
With the scramble to get everything on the web the instant it happens, the pressures on the journalists’ thinking time are enormous. It is not surprising that the Professors of Journalism at City University Londond and New York are infected by the same bug. But they are in a better position to resist it. Their university salaries give them time to think. They should use it for just that.
Making sure that their students, as well as learning the practical skills, also think about standards and values in journalism. And to answer questions like: Should everything be determined by the doctrine of the free market? Which is a belief just as dubious as the beliefs of Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. Too many journalists and too many journalism teachers worship at the shrine of the free market. Too few of them challenge the prevailing. Just because the brand of journalism invented by Pullitzer, Hertz and Northcliffe in the last decades of the twentieth century has dominated for more than a century does not mean it will go on dominating for ever.