The critically endangered species of lesser spotted Real Journalists

The critically endangered species of lesser spotted Real Journalists
(Image: geralt / Pixabay)

Real Journalists are an ageing species under threat of extinction. We record their characteristics here so we can remember them one day.

Things are changing fast and humanity is hurtling towards an unpredictable future. We’re not stable in our lives, professions, societies, cultures. The rhythm of change often leaves us feeling lost and directionless. Despite understandable apprehension about what the new millennium is bringing, humanity seems to be willingly building weaponry with the potential to upend our lives and render us a failed civilisation. We created the internet in the dying decades of the second millennium, and followed it with an even more intrusive and potentially deadly Pandora’s box: social media.

To older generations, the speeding clock of change is almost unrecognisable. Our collective positive minds were supposed to link together in a superpowerful humanity, but we only succeeded in connecting our ids into weapons more dangerous than nuclear and thermonuclear bombs.

In this world in terrifying flux, Real Journalists walk a precarious path between staying true to their ethics and role in society on one side and, on the other, embracing new technology that, theoretically, can help them deliver on their mandate to keep people informed and democracies alive.

But times are tough. The framework that built modern journalism as the Fourth Estate of democracy is melting. What used to be the rule, today is merely optional.

Once, when bad guys got exposed, it was the end for them. Today, it is just the start of another money-making cycle.

Honesty, truthfulness, integrity and incisiveness work less powerfully when the bad guys are shameless and society is confused about its values.

In this earthquakey world, the media should be the remaining spine, strong enough to hold values in place until the storm is over; the voice that can clearly and loudly say, this is good and this bad, and most people instinctively agree.

We should be an anchor in choppy seas, a safe haven in the storm.

And yet. And yet.

With growing alarm, I see more and more of ‘us’ forgetting what we stand for, why we gathered to deliver on our mandate and what role we should be playing.

I put together a few thoughts, in no particular order, to help remind ourselves why we, the remaining media, are still here and why we chose to be journalists, and not reality TV stars:

  • Real Journalists run, face first. Towards fire. Towards trouble. Towards loud and dangerous thunder. Towards despots’ policemen and Nazi stormtroopers;
  • Real Journalists don’t “secure the perimeter” and tweet about their personal bravery;
  • Real Journalists photograph events they cover, not themselves doing it;
  • Real Journalists see and think ahead. When a shot is fired, they brace for the incoming barrage. When careless, cheap, xenophobic words are vomited by a populist politician in trouble, they prepare for incoming hordes baying for the blood of the weak and helpless;
  • Real Journalists are not scared of shouting politicians;
  • Real Journalists do not give up when a spokesperson or source ducks, dives and dodges;
  • Real Journalists join dots, read into trends, and see patterns and nuances behind dodgy business or government press releases;
  • Real Journalists are not stenographers. They know press conferences are only the beginning of the story;
  • Real Journalists always keep their distance when they cover people in power, money or fame – and never cosy up to them;
  • Real Journalists never see themselves as the story. They are never comfortable when put in the centre;
  • Real Journalists read. Long reports, research papers, legislation, forensic reports and court papers take much, much more time to understand, filter and analyse than a tweet;
  • Real Journalists have seen hundreds of careers destroyed on social media;
  • Real Journalists do not accept envelopes of any colour, free lunches, free holidays, clothes, gift baskets or favours;
  • Real Journalists do not write “stories” made up of connected tweets;
  • Real Journalists serve one master: Truth;
  • Real Journalists do not care about how many followers they have on Twitter;
  • Real Journalists do not care about being first, they care about being right;
  • Real Journalists never switch between journalism and anything else, especially PR;
  • Real Journalists are always about their community, society and democracy – always about what’s right, even if unpopular.
  • Real Journalists keep their compass, no matter what hell breaks loose around them.

There are many more points one can make about this dying species. We might only realise how crucial Real Journalists were for us when they’re not around anymore. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Spar, Checkers, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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  • Jon Quirk says:

    Thank you Brkic, a very necessary and timely reminder of both who real journalists are, and most fundamentally their importance to the well-being of both society and and us all.

    Daily Maverick has, good for them, but sadly for us all, almost a monopoly of real journalists in South Africa; more power to the pen of the likes of Marianne, Pauli and others … they truly are the shining beacons in a desert of too few stars.

    Even those of you who do not recognise them now, willl surely miss them when they are now more.

    We need to struggle hard to keep these voices of independence, reason and wisdom alive.

    We need more, not less, real journalism.

  • anton kleinschmidt says:

    Excellent. I hope Daily Maverick grows from strength to strength because it is the only news source in South Africa worth paying for

  • A.K.A. Fred says:

    Keep up the excellent work Branco. Keep motivating your journalists to aspire to these tough mandates. South Africa (and the world) need to penetrate the cloak and dagger dealings of politicians and business for the truth to be revealed. The bad and crooked guys need to be exposed in such a way that it is “the end for them”. This can greatly be achieved through excellent journalism – unpeverted and pure. There is so much to do in South Africa that it sometimes feels daunting. I salute you and your fellow real journalists. I further urge others to become contributors to DM (however small, even in these tough times). Every donation helps to keep real journalism alive.
    Don’t give up!!!

  • Peter Borchert says:

    Thanks Branko, enjoyed that.

  • Juliet Colly says:

    When you finally got their your bullet points were considered and valid. Up until that point you forgot another thing about real journalists: Their writing is short, sharp and to the point.

  • Juliet Colly says:

    … finally got there, not finally got their. I hate technology that thinks its English is better than mine!

  • A.K.A. Fred says:

    Apologies, Branko

  • Kim Brett says:

    Real journalists report both sides of the story, something that is sorely missing in the left-leaning, woke media. They don’t allow themselves to get bulldozed or intimidated into not reporting something that is unpopular (ie. differing opinions on controversial subjects). They don’t believe in or support the cancel culture that is being pushed by more and more media outlets, both social and mainstream. They don’t change their stance when the going gets hot (like WAPO reporting about “pregnant people” instead of pregnant women). They report what is important and beneficial to society as a whole, not the story being underpinned by the money of big business or big pharma. Sadly, I can’t think of too many media outlets that pass my test of good journalism.

    • A Z says:

      Sadly, in recent times that includes this outlet.

      • Liz Smith says:

        Sadly, I agree with you Andrew B – particularly around health issues – just republishing this piece from Rueters, -“Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine slashes pediatric hospitalization risk -U.S. study” by Michael Erman for example, with such an emotive title and no source information for us to obtain details of this study, e.g. how many children comprised the study, their medical history, has it been peer reviewed, who undertook it? etc. is just not up to the standards of DM. My honest query/observation of quality of journalism in this area
        directly to DM received a oneliner response of “we follow the Science”. Since when do Real Journalists just follow… don’t they LEAD? On everything else you tend to blaze the way, why not here too?

  • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

    Real Journalists are the heros of our age!!!!!!!

  • Rob Wilson says:

    A good dose of reality and truth. We live in a time of instant and short lived gratification of posts and comments on social media. They may mean nothing at all, or they may start a war.

  • Szivos David says:

    hear, hear. Aptly put. Unfortunately the concept of journalism has been diluted beyond help.

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    Lest we forget

  • Johan says:

    “Real Journalists serve one master: Truth”

    A wise mentor once said: Do not become too invested in an ideology. They tend to come and go with time. If you become too invested in one, you will eventually be found on the wrong side of history.

    If journalists feel they have to ammend reporting with ideological interpretation, at least find someone with an alternative ideological interpretation and report on that interpretation with equal conviction.

    The current state of journalism is not only due to advances in technology; it is also (actually?) due to the ideology of our time that brought us post-truth.

  • A Z says:

    All of the above most certainly applied to DM, right up until you met a moral stand you refused to take. The hill you would not die on was COVID-19 and applying your inviolable standards to investigating and reporting the truth on treatment as an option. The one which many brave doctors have shown would have saved scores of lives, made lockdowns and the destruction of our economy unnecessary. Instead, you acted as a soap box for a host of financially conflicted and partisan ‘health experts’ and health journalism platforms without for one minute interrogating their on-record financial incentives for pushing a health agenda instead of pursuing the science. So, before you pat yourself on the bank DM, see to the plank in your own eye. Again, your selling out on Covid does not diminish the pride you deserve on all your other investigative journalism. It just makes it so much more disappointing to know that you too have feet of clay.

    • Liz Smith says:

      Thank you Andrew for putting in words my very sentiments. Very sad to see the DM backbone bend on this issue and does start to make one wonder just how ‘independent’ a media it is.

  • Sue Grant-Marshall says:

    Thank you Branko Brkic for these wise words, reminding us about true journalism, especially given the war of words being spewed out by Putin and Russia as they try to pulverise brave Ukraine in word and deed. Keep it up, please!

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