Please, before expressing your indignation, allow me to explain.
From December 13th 2011 to September 5th 2015, I worked as a journalist. Journalists, if I may speak generally, distrust bloggers. Who pays them? Who are their sources? Why do they sit in their houses ‘blogging’ (whatever that entails, we chortle) instead of looking for ‘legitimate’ employment?
This shouldn’t surprise you. Because, as much as they hate to admit it, journalists know how powerful bloggers can be, and the threat they may pose to the traditional newsroom. Those with the right connections can ‘scoop’ us. Those with the time and dedication can write better and richer features. Those with expertise in particular fields can illuminate issues and provide insight, as we journalists report what this guy said and what that guy said, then throw in a token pie chart or line graph and start fretting over tomorrow’s ‘splash’. The way stories are told in the digital space is changing, whether we journalists like it or not.
As a result of my voluntary, very early retirement (joblessness, in plain terms), I have switched sides. With my training, experience and skills, how hard could it possibly be?
Very hard, it turns out.
I worked as a Sub-Editor, which is journalese for ‘the guy who fixes other people’s mistakes’. We don’t go to the press conferences or the accident scenes or (regrettably) the fancy dinners. We sit at our desks, wait for reporters to file and, as an English teacher would to an essay, look for and correct errors; inserting a punctuation mark here, changing the spelling of a word there. I am simplifying things – there is a lot more to the job – but that’s what’s at the heart of it.
And what a lonely, thankless and unglamorous job it is.
Allow me to share a secret.
All the stories you see on your screen or on the page have gone through someone like me. And some, were you to read them in both their raw and finished form, would be unrecognisable. There are times when I’ve had to re-write a story from top to bottom; so incomprehensible was it when it was filed that it needed to be disassembled and put back together. An intro buried in the fifth paragraph. Mangled quotes. Clumsy sentences. Unfathomable statements.
You the reader, of course, don’t know this as you marvel at the craftsmanship of the piece in front of you and make a mental note to in future seek out stories by that reporter or correspondent.
In fairness, reporters and correspondents have a lot to do in very little time (the worst time to call a print journalist for a chat is between 4 and 6 pm) and usually deliver multiple stories in a day. But once they file, unless someone wants a story re-angled or more information or quotes added, it is now someone else’s responsibility, and thus the toil of the sub-editor begins.
And so back to why I now respect bloggers. They somehow make do without the structure and division of labour a newsroom provides. They choose their subject. They go to the event. They do the interviews. They take the photos. They file. They sub. They integrate multimedia. They publish. They promote. All as quickly as possible.
How many jobs are those? Let’s see. Choosing what event to cover, person to interview or issue to write about: News or Assignment Editor. Doing the story: Reporter. Taking photos: Photographer. Editing, caption and headline-writing: Sub-Editor. Social media promotion, comment approval and moderation: Web Producer and Moderator. Responsibility for the platform, brand and budget: Managing Editor. And so on.
These roles are quite complex on their own, and I’m not saying that I, or most bloggers, could perform all of them in a newsroom, but wrangling an invite or accreditation, going to an event, covering the event, coming home, filing and then subbing your own copy is hard work. Yet bloggers do this, and more. It’s all ridiculously demanding.
Bloggers, it turns out, aren’t all just idlers, rabble-rousers and conmen but admirably enterprising individuals. Some in media think they are the future. I don’t. But they certainly have a big part to play in it.