Originally published on Medium

The core of journalism is grabbing the cell phone, tapping in the number to a source, and then talking to that source. It is sending an email to this or that official, asking questions. It’s about making a FOI request for documents, according to whatever constitutional orders exist in your country.

How the information gathered from that source is relayed is mundanely practical. It’s either a written report in the form of an article, or it’s recorded audio or imagery. But the writing, or audio, or video itself is not the journalism. It is an aspect of it, like finance reports are a part of economics.

The journalism is that interaction with the source. The journalism is the social skills and professionalism employed in the exchange between the journalist and the source in order to get the answers to the questions in the best way.

That is why I say that journalism is not a writing job, and you may violently disagree here. I think it is a social job with report requirements. Unfortunately, in that crude summary of journalism lies everything and nothing. In that truism lies the rescue of journalism, and that’s also where its destruction lives.

In that exchange between source and journalist, the journalist can become trapped in a bubble. They can become friends with the source since they meet all the time at the same parties. They can discover shared values and shared ambitions. This is how a “Westminster bubble” emerges, or “Inside the belt-way journalism”, through a merging of spheres where the ethical boundaries crumble.

This is where the core of journalism becomes a threat, because journalism is also being an agent for the reader or the viewer. For whom does a journalist ring that source or send that mail? The answer must be: for the reader or viewer. But if the social work that is at the root of the profession is about the contacts and the interactions with the source, it becomes easy for the journalist and the source to develop loyalties to each other and become friends.

Journalism has scope for craft; at its root, that is what it is. A craft. But like all crafts, it has space for art too. That’s the aspiration. A great article, a good story. But the beginning is that email to that source asking a question. The middle is talking to that source about that question. The end is trying to make sense of the answer, and to put it into context. And only in writing down a report of the answer is where the craft is, and the art. And it’s also about not forgetting who the journalist works for.

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