Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Defining Journalism

One of the biggest criticisms I get these days tends to have nothing at all to do with my writing.  Instead, it's my title:

"Pop Culture Journalist"

That's right. Instead of answering questions about actual work, things like my style of writing, the facts I present, or things of that nature, I get questioned about why I call myself a "journalist".  Really?

Okay, okay. Let me start off by saying that, when it comes to my journalism work, I have no delusions of grandeur about what I do.  In fact, giving credit (or blame) where credit (or blame) is due, it was my friend Mel Caylo, the PR and Marketing Manager for Archaia Entertainment who first called me a "Pop Culture Journalist Extraordinaire", and the title just stuck ... sans the "Extraordinaire" part. It's not like I'm still sitting here expecting a Pulitzer based on my scathing review of NARC from back in the day. I am neither Woodward nor Bernstein, and I'm fairly certain that I'm not going to be the one to expose some Earth shattering conspiracy in which the leaders in the world's comic book industry are secretly planting subliminal messages within their pages to make readers more pliable to the machinations of the Illuminati.  That being said, the work I do when I wear my journalist hat still qualifies as real journalism.  In fact, let me defer to the Merriem-Webster dictionary definition of "journalism":

jour·nal·ism noun \ˈjər-nə-ˌli-zəm\
    • the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media
    • the public press
    • an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
    • writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
    • writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation
    • writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

I'm a particular fan of that whole "writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest" popped in at the end there. If it seems like I'm being a bit of a smart ass here, maybe I am. It's not necessarily intentional, but it helps to drive a point home.

You see, I'm often asked what kinds of classes should be taken to do the type of work I do, and invariably people always say "besides journalism, of course".  Now, I absolutely recommend journalism courses to learn techniques and such, but keep in mind that what I do is a particularly specialized facet of the field ... entertainment journalism.  It's kind of a beast of a different nature.  Take a look at any of my articles and you'll see that I rarely (if ever) follow any sort of "AP-style" format to my work.  In fact, I truly believe that to do my job, a person should take creative writing as well as journalism, and focus on the style and technique for conveying a story in the creative writing course, with the journalism course taking the focus of research techniques.

I know a lot of journalism students (and teachers) might want to take me out to the woodshed right about now for that sort of blasphemy.  After all, who the hell am I to seemingly discount tried and true news writing standards?  The fact is, AP-style writing is great ... for traditional news stories and outlets.  But when it comes to being an entertainment journalist, the truth of the matter is, you HAVE to be able to entertain and engage the reader.  The pop culture scene is always moving and full of life.  You've got to be able to tap into that same energy when presenting your stories.  This isn't your standard investigative or informative narrative on politics, world events, or the like.  This is entertainment. And in entertainment, the minute your audience gets bored, you've lost 'em.  So in order to keep them around, you've got to deliver your content in a fresh way.  For me, that usually means talking to the reader like I'm carrying on a conversation with them one-on-one.  Kinda like I'm doing with all of you right now.  Does it make the information I pass along any less relevant because I'm delivering it in a manner that's not from the traditional AP cookie cutter?  Do I lose credibility just because I'm making it interesting and, dare I say, FUN to read?

There are a lot of people out there, including some of my peers in this field, who question the right to call what I do "journalism".  Instead, they'd prefer that I use the broader term "writer".  I'm not arguing that I'm a writer too.  To me, though, they're two distinctly different, but related, titles.  Keep in mind that I'm someone who is not only a "journalist" covering pop culture news for different outlets, but I'm also a "writer" who is crafting his original IPs and penning his first screenplays and/or books.  In fact, I've already planned a future post that'll outline my view on the differences between my work as a "journalist" and my work as a "writer".  In both jobs, though, I take that work very seriously, and I'm proud of the effort I put into it.  Whether I'm working interviewing a politician over some proposed gaming legislation, writing a feature on the financial state of a publisher, or even just writing a review of the latest popcorn flick, I'm doing my research, collecting my facts, and presenting it all to my audience in a concise and informative manner.  I just try to make it tasty AND be good for you too.

It bugs the piss out of me when other people take it upon themselves to depreciate the work I do based not on the quality of that work, but rather on what their limited perception is of what my job description "should" be.   To all of you out there who question what my role is, I'll leave the last word to none other than Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan:

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