What Is Journalism?

No, really. What is it? Where is it going? How has it changed? Why am I asking so many questions? How many questions in a lead are too many and get annoying after a while?

I was asking myself these questions today, trying to write an amazing and detailed account of video game character development. (Actually, I didn’t really ask any of those questions, but I did have a BLT for lunch. Also, I’m lying about the amazing part. To be honest, it’s only mildly amazing.)

I don’t think journalism has changed at all, though. I think it has stayed the same for eons. And I don’t think it ever will change. You find a source, get them to say stuff, and make it interesting. Or, you get something in the mail, test it, and then say what you think. If there is anything else beyond this, I’m not sure what it is. Maybe having a FedEx account?

Some insist journalism is changing. They usually point to citizen journalists. For the record, I know a few citizen journalists. They are smart and perceptive. Also, they have smartphones. But there’s a difference between someone who happens to be near a bridge when it collapses and someone who is doing journalism. It’s a bit like the difference between someone who drives a car to work and someone who drives a car professionally. Both have a car. They drive it in a different way.

To me, it doesn’t matter if you are on a personal blog like this one, doing a feature for Men’s Journal, writing for Gizmodo, or doing a review for the Largest News Organization in the World (also Gizmodo), the basic process is the same. For the young’uns out there, you do need a good digital recorder. Take notes. Make sure you fact-check your stuff or you will look stupid. The massive cornucopia of product opinion on the Web, aka Amazon reviews, does not qualify as journalism. I’m sorry if you feel it does, but no one has a degree in Amazon reviews. For those who do feel an Amazon review is journalism, please try performing a surgical procedure on your arm and then compare the results to what a doctor can do. I will wait here for when you are done. Please use anesthésia.

See, they are a little different, right? Kinda night and day?

Now, when I first started out in the field, in 2001, I thought there was something mystical about this job. I pictured myself looking like Indiana Jones hunting through the Congo, trying to find a smuggling ring or King Kong (or a King Kong smuggling ring). I’d fly in on a chartered jet, meet with the local tribal leaders, try not to get rolled over by a big rock, and furiously type up my groundbreaking story on a typewriter.

Well, I gave up on that dream a little. The truth is a little less glamorous and doesn’t pay as well. Not that I don’t have big aspirations to visit the Congo and break a major story. I might even stop saying “the” Congo and call it Congo. Maybe I will explore some war-torn villa and uncover a secret mining operation, aka the plot to that other Indiana Jones movie. There is always a burning desire to uncover a new lead. But I don’t think I care as much about “the big story” or being recognized for doing it.

While I’m thinking about my career, I thought I’d share a few highlights from the past 12 years. (Not all of them have to do with getting paid.)

  1. The time I interviewed Lara Croft. Actually, this happened on Tuesday, so it’s still fresh on my mind. But it sure beats interviewing an enterprise security expert. (No offense if you are one. If Lara Croft was an enterprise security expert, we would all live more comfortably and safely.)

  2. Hanging out with 50 Cent. But you know about that one.

  3. An hour-long chat with Buzz Aldrin. I think we were talking about space junk or a one-way mission to Mars (or both). I can’t remember if he was a fan of the one-way idea, but when I suggested a few people we could send, we had a good laugh at their expense. (Sorry Bieb and Al Gore.)

  4. First time visiting Google HQ. I am pretty sure there was a shining aura around the place, a mystical hum, a ring of angels protecting the premises (and carrying iPads). My first contact with anyone at Google happened to be the main visionary behind Gmail. I can’t remember his name – maybe he works on Outlook.com now – but I do remember he is the first person who ever told me about Gmail labels. So the person who invented Gmail labels told me about Gmail labels. Cool, huh? That’s like the person who invented food giving me my first Burrito El Grande or my first milkshake.

  5. First car test. Some of you know I test cars. There is nothing quite like having one delivered to your door, and I think everyone should have the experience once in life. There’s a sense of wonder and amazement, mostly because you don’t have to pay for the insurance. My first loaner was a Dodge minivan. Normally, people don’t get all bubbly when they think about sliding behind the wheel of a vehicle that goes 0-60 in ten minutes (about the time it takes to eat a sandwich, by the way). I was like: I can’t believe I’m sitting in a minivan right now! On top of the world!

  6. Driving the entire coast of California. No really, the entire coast. In a Hyundai. To be honest, it was a bit surreal because – for those of you who live in the state, you know this – the vistas make you drop to your knees, which is hard to do in an Elantra. It’s one scenic jaw-dropper after another.

  7. Anything to do with California.

  8. Hanging out with my favorite editor. This was quite a few years ago now, but we both love books and don’t take things too seriously. We tend to view family as a priority and journalism as a job, albeit one that can be all-consuming.

  9. Cirque du Soleil. This doesn’t have anything to do with journalism, I know. They just put on an amazing act. Great job guys (and girls)!

  10. Visiting the state of Colorado. Wow, the memories. Somehow I managed to parlay this visit into about 15 different articles over a two-week period, plus I drove a Winnebago for the first time. Which brings up a low point in my career. You know the movie RV with Robin Williams? Watch that sometime and think of me.

I’ll add more another time. Or maybe my all-time worst experiences. Or maybe just about Cirque du Soleil.


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