What is a journalist?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Eric, a thoroughly good chap from the other side of the pond, has directed a question at me. It’s in his post point5b: Scary Media Thought on his Livejournal. In it he refers to an article which “reveals” that most journalists arn’t experts in the fields they write about. My response?

Yeah, and…?

The skill of being a journalist is not being an expert on a subject and then pontificating about it in print. The skill of being a journalist is just the same as it’s ever been:

  1. Set out to report on a subject
  2. Research your subject
  3. Build contacts in that field
  4. Gather information from all of your sources
  5. Summarise it as a news story or feature

A journalist isn’t someone who is an expert in a particular field. He or she is an expert in finding the experts in the field, gathering their collected knowledge, sifting through it to find out what is most interesting for the readers and publishing it.

A journalist is essentially a conduit between those who know and those who wish to know. They act as a filter and a translator from the expert source to the lay reader. That’s the skill of journalism, not some nebulous idea of being an expert before you put finger to keyboard.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.