Is journalism a lost art? It’s hard to deny that the immediacy with which we are able to get information these days has affected the quality of journalism. What were once insightful and well-planned articles have been reduced to glibly written soundbites of sometimes questionable credibility. That is not to say that there are no longer any quality writers out there looking to write similarly quality articles. That is not the case at all. The ever-increasing presence of those who value speed over accuracy has tainted the reputation of a once highly regarded profession. But not all hope is lost. I strive to write with as much accuracy as I can guarantee while (hopefully) managing to maintain your interest. That is the very thin line that journalists must traverse. Interest versus accuracy. Some value one over the other. I value both equally.
But this blog is not about me. What it is about, is journalism. At least for today.
I had the privilege to speak to Peter Windsor this past week, and I got an in-depth look at his life as a budding journalist, the obstacles he overcame, and the ones he has yet to conquer.
I posed a similar question to the one which started this very article. Is journalism a lost art?
“I think you raise a very good point, and I have a lot of discussions with my friends about this” says Peter of the state of journalism. “I think one of the big issues today is the fact that the internet and the ease of cutting and pasting has transformed the industry of journalism, if you will”. Pleased that I thought along the same lines as Peter on this subject, I was eager to hear what he had to say next. The “ease of the internet” is a recurring theme in this opening topic of discussion. Are people lazy? Probably. Are all people lazy? Not at all. Peter raises a fantastic point about the ease with which people are able to sound like they know a lot about a subject. A simple series of taps on a keyboard can give you a wealth of power. This is a dangerous tool when you consider the influence journalists have on the public conscience.
“We see traditional print magazines closing down”, explains Peter, “because people aren’t buying them anymore”. This is where our opinions differ. I am no expert in the industry of journalism, so what I am about to say may irk those that are, but it seems bringing a magazine or newspaper from print to digital is a relatively simple thing to do. Newsweek and The New York Times have done a fantastic job of bringing their depth of journalism to the internet. Even in the world of motorsports, Autosport is arguably the leader in online motorsports news and analysis. I buy their digital copies each and every week, and judging by the excitement on Twitter on most Thursdays, it seems my fellow Formula One fans do as well.
So, is it a question of what people are replacing traditional journalism with? Certainly it is much easier to read a tweet than a 3000 word feature when both cover the same subject, and you’ll find that the vast majority will opt for the former. And that is a shame. We run the risk, these days, of rendering the work of our admired journalists obsolete because of our lazy tendencies.
What we need is quality. There are many traditional print magazines that are still selling vast numbers of copies despite the mountain of circumstances conspiring against them. Autosport is one example. Whether you read the digital or print version of the weekly magazine, it is the quality of the reporting that makes you dedicate your time to reading it. That is what will keep real journalism alive. “I think there are still some very very good writers out there”, says Peter of today’s journalism quality. “Some of them are young, some of them are not so young, and there always will be [journalists out there]. It’s like race drivers: there will always be good drivers out there, regardless of the standard of the time.”
One thing I am wary of, though, and perhaps so is Peter, is that aspiring journalists like myself will forever be hindered by our natural inclination for the quick and immediate devouring of information. I will not deny my prolific use of social media to distribute soundbites of information to my followers. I, for one, embrace this tool, and believe wholeheartedly that despite the bad reputation is receives from certain users, social media, specifically Twitter, is the future of information transfer on both the small and large scales.
There is a thin line we all must tread these days, I mentioned it before, and it all has to do with how interested your readers are versus how accurately they are informed. This has been the only way to produce quality journalism ever since the first person began writing for the world’s first newspaper, wherever it may have originated; and this is how we must act today, though, perhaps with more care.
My fellow millenials, we must be wary. Whether you admit to it or not, we all have a certain relationship with technology and the immediacy it brings to our lives that is unique to our generational demographic. But this immediacy is not just in the personal information we give and receive through it, say to friends and family, but in the way we use it to report global happenings to people we have never met. We must be wary, therefore, that our desire to be the first to talk about something does not override the necessity of that something’s accuracy. We live is a world where information seekers develop a sort of hipster-esque attitude to news. “Oh you know about what happened last Thursday? Yeah, I knew way before other people knew about it. I can’t believe people still talk about it. It is so last Thursday.”
Call me old-fashioned, but it seems we get bored with information too quickly and easily. We discard fascinating developments because they failed to develop quickly enough for us.
“I grew up in a time when there was no Formula One on television in Australia”, explains Peter,” and it was impossible to buy any of the weekly publications from England. So, I had to wait a couple of months while they made their way out to Australia by ship.” Stark contrast to today, indeed. We are constantly inundated with sometimes annoyingly similar information that can, unfortunately, get quite old. There are many out there today who admirably aspire to be a journalist in Formula One, yet rely on already published news to get their information, which they then proceed to regurgitate for their own purposes, whether it be for their own blog or other information outlet. This is something that frustrates me to no end, yet is an unavoidable constant in my own life. I don’t want to criticize anyone, but if you go to Autosport to get your information (nothing wrong with that) but then regurgitate that information on a blog, where do you think potential readers will go? Your blog, or the most respected motorsports website in the western hemisphere (probably)? I am not telling anyone to stop doing it, but it’s something to think about.
One’s “field of perception”, as Peter aptly describes it, is the scope in which you understand a subject. The depth to which you go to know not just what happened, but why, and how it happened. Context is at the crux of all journalism, and it is why Peter focuses solely on what he thinks of a subject, rather than common public perception. It is a beautiful way of going about your job, admirable in fact. We live in a world now where others’ perceptions are the code we live by. Not focussing on what others have to say is nigh on impossible when their opinions are tweeted, retweeted, linked, posted and uploaded multiple times per day, and success in the face of all that technological adversity is something to be admired.
We are at a time in the whole context of existence where average people are not given the intellectual credit that most of them deserve, due to the nature of the way we can now distribute information. 140 character tweets do not a genius make. But they don’t define people. I asked Peter about this very issue and he explained to me the constraints journalists are under these days. “Editors, film directors, producers, people who are above the layer of journalism think that they have their finger on the pulse of what the public wants”, says Windsor. “They believe that the general public today has a very short attention span and responds only to very large type face, headlines, big pictures and small amounts of words”. I can say, as one of the very people those editors seem intent on targeting, that some of that is true. Real journalism, journalism in the sense of what Peter and I consider it, stands out in our society of tweets and blogs like the sore thumbs of those very journalists.
Ironically, technology has made journalism, if anything, easier. If you want to be a newshound and get the latest story, Twitter, Facebook and other social media ensure that is made possible. You can be the first to break a story if that is what you want to do. If you want to focus on analyzing said news and delve into their implications, you can also do that. Technology has in many ways opened the doors for journalism, rather than unceremoniously slam them shut as many would have you believe.
But what attracted Peter to journalism? “I had a very good English teacher”, says Peter on his start in writing, “and I have always been good at, I don’t know why, but I’ve always been good at writing quickly under pressure.” These are perhaps the most important aspects of being a journalist. Grammar is also at the crux of good journalism, while punctuality is essential to a publication getting its latest issue on sale. Certainly, in the time of his youth, the whole face of journalism was different in many ways to what it is now. Even physically, they way you went about writing was different. As a young journalist, Peter would often be in line to use a typewriter to write a race report. A couple thousand word race report would have to be thought of, written out, and checked for mistakes in extremely small amounts of time. Budding journalists today are lucky to have SpellCheck.
It wasn’t all stress, though. From his childhood, Peter wanted to be in some way involved in motorsports. He seemed to be in the minority, though, as while his schoolmates talked endlessly about football, tennis or cricket, it was a young Peter Windsor who always wanted to talk about racing. There was a sense of anticlimax on the Monday after a Grand Prix. He couldn’t delve into the minute details of the race with any of his peers because they didn’t care. This is why Peter was so intent upon getting into the industry. He would be able to combine both of his passions into a lifelong profession.
And that is what he did.
I interviewed Peter because I wanted to know more about him. His life is fascinating, and the role he has played in Formula One is one that should not go overlooked. I wanted to know more about Peter, as well, in terms of his role with journalism. I want to be a journalist, and hope someday to write for an esteemed publication and live out all the idealogical fantasies that come with being a journalist. I want to hunt down a story, break it before anyone else. I want to provide people with insight that they may otherwise have gone without, and I want to do something for the rest of my life that I know I enjoy.
Journalism is an historic profession. Yet, it seems that its reputation has been tainted somewhat by the advent of technology and the ease with which you can distribute information with it. It makes the job less noble, in a sense. What once was a week-long investigation into a story has become a retweet. What once was a tiresome three thousand word race report has become, in some cases, a simple copy and paste. But, for all the cynicism about the direction that Journalism is taking, there is one thing we must keep in perspective: our desire to do it. We have to remember that we are the ones who actually want to be journalists. Peter knew when he was a kid, and he made something of that assurance. I, and many other aspiring journalists, am not writing everyday for the money. I write because I want to.
That is what makes good journalism.