When were the good old days?
I’d hazard a guess that – from an employment point of view – they probably come in the first few years of your working life.
If I’m right, mine would have involved some great craic, some great stories and some great lessons learned.
But it’s not as simple as that.
My first few years in journalism were also characterised by the time to pursue stories in newsrooms which were expanding rather than contracting.
And I remember some other things.
Long lunch hours down the pub. Sub-editors stringing out poorly-designed pages for hours on end. Ancient reporters whose intros mangled the English language. Not to mention a laissez faire approach to ethics.
I worked reasonably hard at times. But I also found time to drive up to Mid Wales on a Friday afternoon to see my girlfriend (now wife) at uni while I should have been visiting contacts in Mid Devon.
So I’m always wary of claims that there was once some golden age of journalism.
With web targets bearing down on them on an hourly basis, the expectation that storytelling will involve video and live-blogging, information overload and heightened public demands, it’s no wonder they can feel stressed.
They work long hours, battling to keep the plates of public service journalism and web-friendly content spinning.
So it was with a growing sense of anger that I read a rose-tinted paean of praise to those so-called good old days in Press Gazette.
The writer spoke of lazy, poorly-trained journalists cutting corners and ignoring basic principles of verification.
As someone who – unlike the writer – still spends time in newsrooms and who makes his main living training the journalists of the future, I bristled at a piece which to me was the very epitome of lazy journalism.
It came on a day when my patience was tested first by an over-the-top, tired piece on so-called clickbait and the later news that the white elephant regulator Impress had been officially approved by a Government recognition panel .
It came on a day when I and my colleagues had as usual put our heart and soul into ensuring that dozens of students are equipped with the skills, attitudes and confidence to shine in the media sector.
And it came on a day that saw one of my second year students help her neighbours out of their house after their shed caught fire – before live-tweeting the incident and getting a great story with great pictures online.
— UniVersal News (@UoGNewspaper) October 25, 2016
We know that these would-be media practitioners need to develop greater curiosity and ambition, to grow in resilience and resourcefulness as they look for stories to tell, and to keep on improving.
But we are sending them out into the world with technical skills and digital instincts beyond anything I and my colleagues could have dreamed of in those lazy, hazy 1980s days.
In fact, we’d probably have gone on strike if we’d been asked to do a fraction of what the modern reporter takes in his or her stride every day.
So by all means acknowledge an industry facing intense challenges which could threaten journalism that matters.
By all means rail against the poverty of imagination of newspaper companies cutting away at the flesh of our industry.
But have the humility to accept that there may be new approaches to storytelling.
And if you’re going to tell young journalists that they’re lazy, have the guts to do it to their faces.