Reporters, Then and Now

A recent article titled, “Where Have All the Manly Journalists Gone?” expounds on the pussification of the modern male journalist. I understand that newsrooms and reporting used to be (and in many ways still is) a boy’s club, and so the writer is romanticizing that period. But this article should really be called, “Where Have All the Real Journalists Gone?” He argues that the era of risk-taking, hard-drinking male reporters of the Ernest Hemingway and Edward R. Murrow breed are gone. He’s right, but it’s not just regulated to men. And it doesn’t matter. Nelly Bly pretended she was insane so she could expose how the mentally ill were mistreated. Ida Tarbell took on Standard Oil and was one of the first journalists to take on corporate power. Doing stuff like that takes guts, and I am sure these women had chips on their shoulder and some type of mental defect that made them do it. That’s manly. Or just plain bad ass.

Like everything else regarding the workplace and modern society, the playing field is evening out. Gender roles are being reversed. Same goes for the journalism profession. This isn’t a “manly” problem, but a “quality”problem. The profession in general, in flux now for a decade, is producing worse reporters. Reporters these days are people who want comfortable careers with a steady paycheck, where no one’s feelings are hurt, and where they can get two weeks of vacation and leave all that shit at home. There’s a worship quality reporters have with his or her source that didn’t exist back in the day. Granted, I wasn’t around then, but I see how some of the lifers at my newspaper look at their job compared to how younger reporters look at theirs. Maybe it’s the tendency to please or the caution of falling into a new job, but reporters today are too by-the-books and not the out-for-blood lineage of reporters that I admire. Today they’re too sterilized by academia and coddled by technology because they can just Google whatever they want or quote Twitter or a press release and they don’t even have to pick up the phone or contact the outside world.

Maybe the older reporters I know are just jaded from years of putting up with a bullshit society, but I think it’s because they came up in a different game. Reporting used to be more like a trade, where you start at the bottom and learn by doing, from another reporter or by just getting thrown out into the field. Old school reporters have more of an adversarial relationship with their subjects. They hate people, authority, and are used to burning bridges. But they get good stories.

Today you get some upper class go-getter with a liberal arts or journalism degree who gets off at being around powerful people or seeing their byline. The tendency then is less critical journalism. They do everything from the comfort of their office and definitely won’t spend a night on the streets with homeless people or write a justified hit piece on why such and such politician is full of shit.

So it has nothing to do with being manly, but more so with our rigid academic structures, technology, and lack of money to go drop a reporter into a war zone for months on end or send him to far flung reaches of the planet. If journalism is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,” then surely today the opposite is true of our media.

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