The three types of career that appeal to me (law, business and journalism) all have the stigma of requiring brutality in order to succeed. I find this slightly worrying. A friend recently challenged me on whether I’m suited to the cut-throat industry of journalism and it got me thinking: do journalists need to be ruthless?
Without question journalists have some unsavoury duties. For example, ‘doorstepping’ the family of someone killed in an accident. Journalists seek the truth, and that can involve asking confrontational questions or invading someone’s privacy. The bigger the story, the less important compassion and empathy becomes. Journalism is certainly not for the meek.
However, I refuse to believe that journalists need to be hardnosed and heartless. For starters, I will not get far if this is true. A good story needs good quotes, so journalists need to get people talking. People aren’t chatty if they sense you’re out to fool them in some way; so bullying interviewees is not productive. Whilst it’s true that many scoops come from journalists lulling people into a false sense of security; such a tactic won’t work twice on that person. Succeeding in journalism requires a mixture of very hard work, a bit of luck and good contacts. If you treat someone badly to get a story, you will not be able to use that person again.
A compelling story is a successful story, so empathy is crucial. With the doorstepping example; a bereaved family may wish to pay tribute to their relative if approached tactfully and given space to grieve. The ruthless journalist who dives in too soon shoots himself in the foot as well as upsetting others.
Overall I think competitiveness and determination are different to ruthlessness, and that it’s possible to succeed in journalism with your morals still intact. Being approachable and reliable are much more valuable skills in my view, but maybe I’m naive.
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