He didn’t write it about journalism.
But some words which accompany many of the tributes to Professor Stephen Hawking today show that his genius wasn’t confined to quantum physics.
It’s a great lesson for life. And a pretty good mission statement for journalists.
Look up at the stars and not down at your feet:
I’ve always believed in glass half-full journalism. That’s not to dodge difficult stories, to shy away from controversy or to be afraid of rocking the boat. To misquote the Bible – and I’ve been teaching the laws on blasphemy today – there is a time to be awkward, and a time to tell hard truths.
But I very much like the idea of Cornwall Live editor Jacqui Merrington to appoint a Happiness Reporter, with Hannah Maltwood’s mission to find life-affirming content.
And that Hawking mantra also says to me – as I feel free to wilfully re-interpret the great man’s thoughts – that a journalistic life is best lived out there in the fresh air.
It was lovely to see a commitment from Sky to send more reporters out into the country to talk to more real people about what it rightly calls ‘fractured Britain.’ The headline says it all.
Journalism needs to be outward-looking, to immerse itself in communities and to ensure that the thoughts of interesting people are reflected in coverage. It needs to create new dishes, not reheat old ones.
Try to make sense of what you see:
Helping to make sense of a world that can seem troubling and complicated should be at the very heart of any journalist’s mission. It’s not just about providing a combination of lights and mirrors to reflect what’s going on in our communities. It’s also about providing incisive, helpful and trusted analysis useful to a time-poor audience which rises above the formulaic and the cut and paste.
There has rightly been huge praise for the way in which the Salisbury Journal broke the story which has dominated the national headlines for the last ten days. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see local journalists pursuing new lines, working contacts and writing responsibly in such extraordinary circumstances.
— Toby Granville (@TobyGranville) March 8, 2018
— Charlie Thomas (@CThomas663) March 6, 2018
— Thomas Haworth (@Adver_Tom) March 7, 2018
I’m spending most of this week back at the typeface, working as a reporter at The Bath Chronicle. Yesterday I covered my first council meeting for a few years, and I also met the new Trinity Mirror/BBC Local Democracy scheme reporter who will be covering the city, Stephen Sumner.
As I have said before, the scheme is a wonderful one. I got five stories in a couple of hours yesterday afternoon and picked up a promising follow-up to chase tomorrow.
I also badgered the committee clerk to find me a table to rest my laptop on: evidence perhaps that we need to send more reporters into these corridors of power to ensure the public accountability muscles don’t descend into atrophy.
One of the most important journalistic mantras of all – and certainly one which the team in Salisbury need no reminder of.
I’m having a great time back on my stamping ground in Bath, meeting old friends, digging up stories and reacquainting myself with the sheer joy of telling interesting people’s stories. But it’s also been a real pleasure to see my temporary colleagues breaking stories which have involved keeping their eyes open and their brains in gear.
Wonder about what makes the universe exists:
I’m pushing my luck now. But the day I stop being fascinated by what makes the world go round is the day I give up and tend my garden. And I don’t like gardening.
That sense of wonder remains an essential part of a journalist’s toolkit, though.
We should never lose our capacity to be amazed and inspired by the extraordinary things that ordinary people do.
Cynicism is a corrosive thing. It’s important to have a healthy sense of suspicion, to question the motivation of people in authority from time to time. But thinking the worst of everyone and everything damages us all.
So, thank you Professor Hawking. Thank you not just for your scientific breakthroughs, but also for your wisdom on life in general. And for your sense of fun.
We need more of that in journalism too.