So I am a journalist. I read, research, investigate and mostly go out in the field: to see for myself, and to document. It is what I do for a living. It is my livelihood. And recently I realized my job is a one-way-street.
I write, photograph, the material gets published, I get paid, those who have access to it read it, and sooner or later it is shelved. Do I do what I do for the good of humanity? I like to think so. At least that is precisely why I became a journalist. I no longer wanted to only stand witness, but to report, and through objective reportage make those that were invisible, visible: no more secrets.
What is ethical for us journalists is impartiality; bend over backwards to report a story from as many sides as there are, regardless of our beliefs. Let the subject speak, do the background research and write on it with hard evidence to support your claims. Shed light to the darkest areas, make people understand the real players behind a plot. Pure reportage. Be a fly on the wall, who you are, where you come from doesn’t matter. Only the truth matters.
Us reporters are a different breed than the columnists. The op-eds, also known as opinion pieces, mostly feed on our finds. Reporters after all, are the back-bone of a paper. And the photojournalists are, or were doubly special. We could show, therefore prove what was going on in the field. Our job was not merely to crank the lens to a proper f-stop to take a beautiful picture. Our job was to research, find, take the picture and preferably tell the story in a set of pictures. In most unprofessional circles we were referred to as “the photographer” a misnomer, underestimating the job’s potential, and thus the potential of the images we created. Some of us, me being one of them, took the down play as a blessing. It helped us keep a low profile, helped us get closer to the subject without intimidating it.
Those were the good days. I always believed, the more op-ed pieces a paper has, the less of a news outlet it is. News means good reportage. Not what someone feels, or someone suggests. We all have opinions, and to make healthy decisions we need unbiased information.
Enter social media
The turn of the century brought with it massive takeovers of large international media outlets. Not only the ownership was changing hands but the nature of the owners, the chemistry in the mainstream written press was also changing. International news magazines and newspapers were not only downsizing, but it seemed the content was also becoming lighter, more convoluted.
In the good old days of journalism, I loved the gray areas. They were where we, journalists, thrived in. This is how it went: if you could explain gray, which only a handful of us could (I rather attempted to “show” it in pictures, instead of trying to explain in words) you were good. With the turn of the century, most of that became history for the journalism student and nostalgia for us.
In a matter of weeks one of the oldest columns of journalistic pride, Newsweek, my alma-mater, will cease to exist. Victim to a take over a few years ago, it had been struggling. More and more the grey area coverage had turned to pink celebrity news. And as of December 31, the print form will completely cease to exist. A sad day for Newsweek, sadder yet, for those of us who were privileged to live through the glory days of hustle and bustle of its newsroom, be part of the competition for the smartest cover, and the best inside spread. In the days when journalism mattered.
So, for an old school journalist such as I, the world of blogs and tweets at first seemed far off. Tweets were somewhat understandable, as tailored to use they could turn into what would be a police wire to a local reporter. We could be tipped off on breaking news as it happened, well, almost. Since being good meant being there before it happened, twitter still helped us connect the dots, as news filtered into our accounts from different geographies all at once while we were busy covering one aspect of it. To give an example: during the street protests in Baghdad on February 25, 2011, I was inside the Green Zone. And thanks to the dedicated tweets from behind the two meter tall T-walls, I could track down, if not see, where the demonstrators were gathering at, and where, if anywhere, there would be a break in on the fortress surrounding the area.
Media as we know it is dead, long live the new media
However, when it came to blogs I had always been a bit more cautious. I didn’t underestimate a blog writer’s potential. However, I firmly stood by the belief that a writer was not necessarily a journalist. And to me most blog writers were merely writers. When a few years ago a friend of mine approached me and asked to co-pen a series of articles on current issues for a blog site, I was a bit skeptical, well, alright, ridiculously conservative, closed-minded, and downright arrogant. Weren’t blogs mock-journalistic sites anyhow? Where did a bunch of pages written by someone with possibly very little to no knowledge of the journalistic code of ethics, least-be-known the gentleman’s agreement for accuracy and objectivity, fit in the world of journalism?
Yet the subject matters proposed to me by my young friend were enticing, and I was bored, so I said, what the hell. We ended up co-penning 6 articles from a review of Belgian artist Renzo Marten’s Enjoy Poverty, to citizen journalism in Palestinian territories, and the new media. All links to the articles, five of which ran only in Turkish can be found as separate entries on this site.
Experimenting on these articles was not only an interesting experience, but also made me realize how social media parted from commercial media. I was appalled. The interactivity exposed you to your readers. If they thought what you wrote was a bag of baloney, they called you on that. The emperor, for once, was truly naked. No matter how well we researched, no article we wrote, no story we reported on could ever be perfect. But now, with social media, there was a slight bit of chance for that perfection. Through blogging, reportage could turn into a collective effort. And as it turned out, I was one of the last journalists who boarded the train.
It also turned out, the States had also tuned into what potential the new media held as well as the threats it harbored to their security, stability. For all of us it was an adjustment period, with the new generation born into a virtual world already crunching heavily on the keyboards, filling the new dimension with news, articles, analysis, bits of information, of all sorts. The internet was buzzing with life, as the old media was dying.
Shoot the reporter first
We journalists are often targets in a conflict. If you shoot the messenger the message will never get delivered. So we are hunted, shot at, killed, and kidnapped all around the globe. Yet with the Second Gulf War it seems attack on journalists, in my opinion, turned bolder. There were two direct hits on two targets by American tanks as they rolled in to the city center in Baghdad on 8th of April, 2003. One, to the network offices of Al Jazeera killing one journalist, and the second, accurately reported live minute by minute, to the Palestinian Hotel which hosted the international media. There were four casualties.
This was then. Now, social media, and all journalists using the power of internet are also heavily becoming a prime target for the gun-toting States: accused to be members of B’Tselem (anNGO distributing video recorders to civilians to record human rights abuses) two Reuters reporters were harassed and humiliated by Israeli police as they were driving to a border check point to report on the death of a Palestinian teenager by the Israeli border guard. One of the last knights of journalism Julian Assange is hunted on accounts of rape on the eve of a major disclosure of hidden communication, a treasure trove and a starting point for anyone willing to investigate: Wikileaks.
All this only serves to prove that social media, once shunned and taken lightly by the likes of me, stands firm where commercial media failed. And for the good journalist, internet is the lost kingdom.
I used to say, for each news magazine that close, an angel loses its wings. Now I say, for each news magazine that close, at least five reporters go online. The former say, I could only guess. The latter, I know for a fact. I am here, aren’t I?