Tomorrow: don’t go out before you’ve read the paper (I’ll let you read it online)

This was originally posted on August 19th 2010, in the Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists blog-ring after I was asked to contribute to journalism.co.uk’s August Debate.

As I sit in my dressing-gown at my laptop at midday, with umpteen tabs open in Firefox, I often find myself the brunt of my housemates’ ridicule. Who am I? Am I some sort of 21st-Century Oscar Wilde, with the complete works of John Milton available to peruse on my iPhone 4? Am I a hardcore blogger, born at the dawn of the nineties and looking for my next conspiracy theory? No, I’m a journalist, and I’ve learned that you’ve got to stay in almost as much as you’ve got to go out.

Without making the case that the new era of Multimedia Journalists™ are the poor man’s polymaths (Andy Halls has perhaps already alluded to this), I’m simply saying that to be a successful journalist, one must absorb a vast amount of information.

And now, a lot of that can be done with a solid internet connection. As a current affairs journalist, you’re supposed to know more than the average person does about the last time there was a large oil spill, what percentage of cuts were laid on in 1979, and what happens when your travel company isn’t ABTA-certified. Sometimes you’ve got to do a bit of research (cross-referenced and checked, naturally) before you hit the road with some knee-jerk questions.

It is a careful compromise between scholarly research and the most heinous of journalistic crimes: recycling from other sources. I suppose, as an English Literature undergraduate, my perspective of being an aspiring journalist is balanced with my current academic discipline. To be an effective journalist, one must have the ability to reflect a readership, so it helps to know what’s going on out there. Yes, I understand that a lot of what goes on can be learned from your sources on the street, but if you’re out there all the time, then you’ll forget that Question Time’s been on.

Some student journos I know (admittedly, not very good ones), have little knowledge of current affairs. They’re too busy perfecting the standfirst on their magnum opus exposé to have a flick through the Guardian, and their homepage is their perpetually-refreshing e-mail account and the Oxford English Thesaurus rather than BBC News and Twitter’s trending topics.

I’m not a seasoned Foreign Correspondent for the BBC, and I don’t have a newswire on my desktop, so I rely on other media to feed me some semblance of what’s going on. If I see some half-baked semi-scoop in the Staines Informer, chances are I’ll go out and follow it up, and probably come up with something more informative. Speaking of which, It’s just arrived on the doorstep, so I’m going to put the kettle on and go and pick it up.

Sure, the first half of my day has been spent indoors, but I won’t be spending the rest of it playing catch-up. I now know exactly where to go, who to contact, and about what.