Do journalists have morals?

Apparently not.

A blogging friend recently compared plumbers with politicians, journalists, sex-offenders and bankers in the scheme of detritus of life.

Given that my partner does plumbing work as part of his multi-skilled toolbox and I’m a trained and qualified journalist, that’s something of a double whammy.

Personally I would add lawyers, medics and dentists to the list, although naturally I would remove journalists.

Whatever happened to used-car salespeople? They used to be the absolute measure of shady and unethical dealing. Still are in Gib but that’s another story.

It is fair to say that some journalists are bad. Unethical. After the glory. What drives journalists is not so much the money but the fame. It is an incredibly competitive industry. It is unbelievably difficult to get into, and for the majority of journos, involves working long hours for low wages.

Some of us are qualified. In law, public administration, shorthand and practical journalism in my case. Others take degrees in multi-media journalism. At the end of the day you need to know how to ask questions, put a story together, and not fuck it up with a load of errors or bring a libel suit down on your company.

Example 1

In Sydney, my partner met the editor of the local Reader’s Digest and mentioned I was a journalist. I dutifully went off to meet him and discussed writing a story.

Except it wasn’t writing a story at all. It was visiting an area to basically fill in the gaps of a pre-written story and write Sydney where the original post said Los Angeles. All Reader’s Digest stories had to be the same. You write about tiger on the rampage in India, you have to write about tiger on the rampage in California, or in my case Sydney.

Tiger on the rampage wasn’t the actual story I was commissioned to ‘write’ but it might as well have been.

I went out, did some interviews, wrote up the story. Not good enough. I’d rebelliously changed the text to reflect the actual story and hadn’t managed to find enough tigers on the rampage. Well tough shit, because that wasn’t true. There were no tigers on the rampage. I chucked the job.

I’m not willing to make up stories to fit with a pre-set mould.

Example 2

I was ordered to go and do a story about violence on a council estate in the UK. I knocked on loads of doors and no-one would confirm there was any violence.

What do you write? Residents are so terrified of repercussions that they won’t speak to a reporter about alleged violence?

Or just go back to the news editor and say, no-one would confirm this story so I’m not writing it?

I didn’t write the story.

Example 3

I was sent to a council meeting about poll tax (local taxation for non-Brit readers which is based on properties, except the poll tax was based on people, hence the name). I sat in the press gallery. Someone came up to me who I didn’t know and confided that she wasn’t actually a reporter. She was a political activist and wanted to disrupt the meeting at a later point.

I wasn’t the local council police, so I let it go. Plus there would be more of a story if she did disrupt the meeting, which she did with a couple of colleagues. They were obviously escorted out at that point.

Back in the newsroom one of my colleagues argued with me because I hadn’t informed on them as not being genuine journalists. That is just not my job. I was there to report not to breach someone’s confidence. One of the old-fashioned ethics about being a journalist is that you don’t disclose your sources if they have told you something in confidence. One crime reporter I used to know went to prison because she refused to reveal information to the police.

Every trade, craft or profession has their own code of ethics.

Back to the press gallery, or rather the newsroom. The same colleague wanted me to refer to the protesters as a mob or ragamuffins. I thought that was a judgemental and political comment and refused to write that. The news editor, who happened to be sleeping with him, finally came down on my side.

So three examples of ethical journalism on my part, or so I like to think.

I have been screwed by a crap lawyer, treated by bad dentists, and worked with poor medics and lying politicians and civil servants.

As for construction, my overall view is that the worst are joiners who generally move onto general building. Followed by painters, half of whom don’t know one end of a paintbrush from another.

I do however, take exception to being likened to a sex offender. And bankers, and politicians come to that. Like every trade, there are some good people in there and some bad. Some break the law.


About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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24 Responses to Do journalists have morals?

  1. free penny press says:

    I’m not sure what blogger compared journalist to sex-offenders but I fail to see any comparison there. Can journalists be exploitative and intrusive, absolutely, but to the point of sexually offending a child.. I’m missing that comparison..Many, many professions have good & bad such is the way of the land..


    • Thanks L. I worked bloody hard to get my journ qualification and I found it pretty insulting to be compared to a sex offender. I am sure it was a tongue in cheek comment, but it didn’t quite do it for me. Bankers and politicians were bad enough!

      I am the first to deplore a lot of current journalism. As you say it is both exploitative, intrusive, and in a lot of cases, quite frankly inaccurate. But that’s what people want to read, sadly. We aren’t all bad though.


      • free penny press says:

        No mam, we certainly all are not bad. many good journalist out there writing the truth even if it costs them the next story. It’s a difficult field to be in I’m sure and for the ones who are ethical (you included) I salute you for trying to do the right thing.. print the true story!


        • Ma’am in Brit English 😉

          I hope there will be a new wave of accurate, responsible and ethical journalism. Who know?

          Either print the true story, or if there isn’t one, don’t make it up.


  2. Perpetua says:

    An inane but damaging comparison. I guess journalists are like all professionals, mostly hard-working, dedicated and honest, but with enough bad apples to taint the barrel as far as the outside world is concerned. I see the same in my daughter’s professional field – she’s a solicitor.

    Sadly the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has coloured a lot of people’s perceptions of press journalism here in the UK and we all know of cases where the facts have been twisted to suit a purpose, with selective quotation taken out of context and made to say something else completely. Yet I do believe that the great majority of journalists are doing their job to the best of their ability, often under great pressure to toe an editorial line, as your examples demonstrate.


    • Totally agree. In every profession there is good and bad, technically journalism isn’t a profession, but neither is plumbing, however we all need to learn our trades and pass exams. For me the problem is the ones, who haven’t learned the trade or passed the exams. I wrote about the Aus media incident a while ago;
      That was despicable. To me.

      Law is an interesting one. I needed a lawyer for conveyancing and the one I had used previously had been struck off. Not due to bad legal practice but for fiddling the revenue. From a client point of view I considered him a good lawyer, and because he wasn’t around I ended up with someone who didn’t follow my instructions correctly.

      The NoW scandal (and others) is appalling. That is not journalism, to me, but maybe I am just old. Who do they think they are? MI5/6?

      My examples, small in comparison were interesting because absolutely everyone in our newsroom was a trained and qualified reporter, mostly with a degree as well. These were intelligent people, of a similar age range (think we were all late 20s early 30s) who knew what they were doing – hence the disagreement!


      • Perpetua says:

        Thanks for linking to the previous post which I missed because I was away, but which I do agree with. That was an appalling incident, made worse by the fatuous way the top brass tried to excuse what had happened..


  3. angryricky says:

    Once, I was visiting my mom for a week or so, and she told us that the water was bad again. The town had issued a warning not to use unboiled water, even for brushing teeth. Along with whatever microscopic beasts were in it, the water came out of the tap a dark brown color. My ex and I went to a friend’s house in the next town to bathe and drink some water–she is a journalist, so she called the city officials first thing the next morning. They fixed my mom’s water immediately, and even though no one else in town had decent water for another week, we did. My mom never had water problems in that town again. Journalists do good work.

    I myself was an English teacher in the rural Southern United States, so I also know what it’s like to be feared and despised because of my profession.


    • I can only think of one story where I made an impact like that. The local council had decided to not hold a market over a holiday period. My parents worked on the market so I hold my hand up to say there was self-interest involved. I got front page lead, the council backed down, and the market was held.
      After all, it wasn’t just my parents, other people were going to lose a day’s income.
      Sometimes it is nice to be able to change something, or in your mum’s case, to get something fixed.

      I wouldn’t have thought teachers were feared and despised. That is bad news.


      • angryricky says:

        Well, Southerners are famous even among themselves for sounding uneducated when they speak because of nonstandard grammar and vocabulary, so they’re rather intimidated by someone who knows the traditional grammar rules. I got into the habit of introducing grammatical errors into my speech so that people would be more comfortable with me.


        • That’s interesting. Reminds me of when I was working for my parents on the market delivering orders to other stallholders. I went to a private school and had a posh accent at the time, so I really tried to speak more locally. It was hard.


  4. Vicky says:

    Your statement: ‘Like every trade, there are some good people in there and some bad.’ Is my sentiment exactly.
    It annoys me to the core when folk are generalised as being good or bad, because of who they are or what they do.
    A bit of a side track, but it’s on the same lines as dog breeds.


    • We all make generalisations, me included. The trouble is, as soon as you get one bad story eg the NoW or the Aussie phone call radio show incident, then it makes headlines and the whole profession suffers. Same with footballers, they tend to get typecast as overpaid, termperamental little boys who go on the razzle and go through women like a dose of salts. Some are, but the majority playing for smaller clubs on lower wages will be as ordinary as the next person in the street. I’ve met decent and ethical local politicians – one who refused to claim expenses for attending meetings because he said he didn’t need to take the money, another on the other hand made more money out of his exes than someone in full-time employment would earn.


  5. How you must have loved those mind-numbing Council meetings. I was required to attend them but I always felt sorry for those poor reporters (not journalists) from the local paper who were required to sit through hours of endless nonsense often without understanding a word of it.


    • I liked council meetings! Writing them up was a bit of a pain, but I enjoyed sitting there for hours on end. Parish council meetings that went on until 10, 11pm or even midnight were a bit of a pain though. I found court more boring when there were endless TWOCs, driving without MOT and insurance, and no TV licences. They really were the pits. There is no way you can make any of those sound interesting.


  6. EllaDee says:

    I’m intrigued that plumbers were included with politicians, journalists, sex-offenders and bankers in the scheme of detritus of life, and dentists and medics… Lawyers I understand – they do get a bad rap, and fairly, somewhat warranted. I think the key to it, as mentioned in the comments, is generalisation is rife. Judging someone by their profession is an old fall back and quite an outdated attitude. People are more than what their job title or profession conveys both for good and bad. Teachers and priests were once universally held in high esteem but now…


  7. Andrew says:

    Excellent post. I’ve always admired moral journalists. Before I stumbled blindly into my profession I toyed with photo-journalism but discovered it didn’t pay very well. Perhaps in another life I shall return as a journalist or plumber but god forbid as a banker. Perish the thought.


    • Very nicely done Andrew, considering it was your comment on Lottie’s that inspired my post. Perpetua, on my previous post, did not stay quite so neutral after I mentioned one of her blog posts. All’s fair in blog and war say I.

      In fact, your comment on Lottie’s was inspiring. Most journalists don’t earn much money. (qv your comment above). Most journalists don’t ‘phone hack or work for the Suez of the World. A lot of so-called journalists are not qualified eg Whatsit Milibrand who seems to get paid a fortune for an article in the Daily Wail. Celebrity authors no less.

      My local bank and building society staff are fine. Well, some have made a few fuck-ups which I have pointed out, but they are hardly awarding themselves bonuses of mega-bucks for bad advice. They are lowly-paid incompetents, rather than highly-paid ones.

      In a way, construction rightly gets a bad press. There are some serious rip-off merchants and shysters in it. For a few reasons, people think it is a) an easy trade to get into b) in the case of emergencies (plumbing) they can virtually hold people to ransom and c) the public know nothing about the trades. I’m not talking DIY, I’m talking apprenticeships, college, trade papers, exams. People want a cheap job. They end up getting ripped off.

      Plumbing pays better than decorating. Journalism doesn’t pay at all. Electrics is a good one. Banking and law seem pretty good to me considering they all get things wrong and still get well paid (in my personal experience), but that goes for the other professions I mentioned above.

      I’d still come back as a journalist if there was anything worth reporting for. These days I doubt it.


      • Andrew says:

        I thought it was a bad case of sense of humour failure to be honest. The fact that the statement was patently absurd and untrue might have been a clue. It was aimed at the current round of banker bashing. We are the new whipping boys. The fact that previously journalists and plumbers have been in the firing line was merely a happy coincidence. Comparing any of the professions to sex offenders is off the scale. Perhaps I should be less subtle next time.


        • Yours or mine? 😉 Don’t answer that!

          The problem is that according to one of the surveys I found ( politicians, journos and bankers were the top three, in fact politicians and journos were joint first on 7%, and bankers had a couple more percentage of people trusting them. They were still in the 90+% of people didn’t trust them category. So it didn’t seem remotely absurd. What strikes me as ironic is that the only way people get to know about disreputable practices is through the medium of journalism. I never found anything with plumbing per se, but certainly the construction industry figured in The Torygraph list I think.

          Incidentally journalists used to feature in a high-risk category for driving, on the assumption they were always chasing after stories and speeding. As half the stories at least are done over the ‘phone in the office, and many others are locally-based within walking distance, that’s another fallacy. The exceptions to that on local papers tended to be Crown Court, stories in outlying districts, and some council meetings.


I appreciate any comments you leave, so long as they are relatively polite. And thanks for reading.

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