Explaining journalists’ bad behaviour

Underpaid, overworked and suffering from character defects, Tim Burrowes justifies the foibles of journalists.

Most journalists I know have one thing that unites them. They could all make more money if they chose to do something else instead.

From early in your career, there’s a 10 grand pay rise to be had if you cross over into PR. That premium rises with experience, particularly when political advisor roles start opening up.

But I suspect there is a certain type of journo who would never be happy doing anything else – and neither would they fit in.

In part it’s because of the job; the personality type it attracts, or possibly creates. These people are one of the factors that make newsrooms such interesting places. This is the seductive thing about journalism. You may be stressed, underappreciated, underpaid or overworked. But I know very few journalists who complain of boredom.

It’s also a profession that tolerates a greater level of eccentricity – indeed celebrates it – than any other. Good writers or story getters will be forgiven character defects that would see them sacked in other industries.

A leaning towards the lastminute that would seem unacceptably sloppy in another office is seen merely as deadline surfing in journalism. The reason so few journalists actually write that book they’re always talking about is, I suspect, because they’ve become so hooked on immediate deadlines. I include myself in that. The only way I’ll ever write a book is if I deliver it to 100 daily deadlines of 700 words a time.

Journalists get to behave in a way society would otherwise frown upon. It comes out of bloody mindedly chasing stories but leads to behaviour that often ends up bordering on rude. It’s encouraged because what’s needed is
fearlessly demanding answers from authority.

But it also manifests itself in hostility to those innocents on the phone spruiking a press release. Which is why I’ll never switch to PR. Being polite to those journalists would kill me.

This piece first appeared in Encore magazine. Subscribe to the print edition here or download the iPad edition here.

Encore Magazine - MoGeneration Pty Ltd


  1. Katy Denis
    27 Jun 12
    5:47 pm

  2. Nice piece Tim, thanks!

  3. Tia
    27 Jun 12
    8:30 pm

  4. I’m one of those ‘nice press release spruiking PR people’ – I’m also a consumer of media. As such, sometimes the journalists with whom I am speaking are my heroes. Some of us might be ‘annoying’, but you can be sure the greater majority of us have enormous respect for the valuable role they play in society. A lovely piece Tim.

  5. anon1
    28 Jun 12
    9:58 am

  6. “The only way I’ll ever write a book is if I deliver it to 100 daily deadlines of 700 words a time.”

    Try Nanowrimo. It’s perfect for this.

  7. Craig
    29 Jun 12
    6:09 am

  8. None of that article excuses bad behaviour or poor work by journalists – of which there is far too much these days.

    When we see the balance tip from the media keeping politicians and businesses honest to organisations like QLD Police having to correct journalistic mistakes weekly via their Facebook and Twitter accounts (and annoying the mastheads for doing so),
    And efforts like Channel 7 exposing a Minister’s personal life as ‘public interest’ due to a personal vendetta (causing him to resign), there’s serious issues in media-town that need to be addressed, not ignored.

    And political advisors mainly aren’t paid that well (plus if you step from journalism into political advising it does cast a last shadow over your ability to be objective as a journalist).

    I appreciate the passion that keeps journalists in journalism, however media outlets simply don’t care about quality journalism anymore, they are in a fight for their survival due to their high cost distribution models versus zero cost Internet.

    Years ago they threw out the baby (journalism) with the bath water – devaluing journalism by depreciiating the value of writing to zero by giving away the news online and betraying the craft.

    It is very hard to claw back from this, and impossible in a form we’d recognise as a 20th Century news organisation.

    All just my opinion of course, working on the edge of the industry.

  9. archie
    29 Jun 12
    10:08 am

  10. Tim i think you’ve managed to create for yourself one of the most interesting and fun jobs in the marketing/media industries

  11. Em D
    4 Jul 12
    11:28 am

  12. As someone who works with journalists (but not a journalist myself) I have to say this is spot on, and I think many of my journalist colleagues would agree with you about not wanting to work in another industry (especially PR or marketing) where the dynamic is usually more corporate and very different to what they’re used to!

  13. David Lockett
    8 Jul 12
    5:05 pm

  14. If journalists are unhappy with their lot in life, then it is about time they did something about it and jumped ship before they are pushed.

    The reality for many is that the traditional the role of journalists working for a print based newspaper publisher is all but over.

    This is because newspapers themselves are all but finished, and it is now only a matter of time before the advertisers find more effective ways of promoting their services, and abandon the newspapers completely. This is already happening in North America, Europe and Asia, and is increasingly happening here in Australia.

    Look at the current planned cutbacks by News Corp for example. What they are presently doing, is equivalent to re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it slowly sinks beneath the icy waves.

    Readers are abandoning traditional printed newspapers in droves, and no amount of table banging by the likes of Gina Rinehart, or others who have vested interests and big dollar signs in their eyes, is going to bring those readers back.

    The question to ask is how many young people read printed newspapers today? if you don’t know the answer to that question, it is almost zero. If young people are not reading traditional newspapers and increasing numbers of mature aged people are stopping reading them, then what is the future of newspapers?

    It is 2012, and if journalists and the newspaper owners/publishers can’t see the writing on the wall by now, it can only be because they are choosing not to see it. No doubt, this is because they don’t want to see what the future of the media is going to be like. Change is scary, although being concerned about change won’t prevent it from happening.

    The Internet is without doubt the future of journalism. Website technology is now so advanced that each individual journalists could easily operate their own substantial website at a minimal cost, and potentially generate a solid income by doing so. They will however need to conduct research to ensure that they get the details right.

    Who better to write website content that attracts daily visitors than experienced and skilled journalists, and quite probably without any need to be shackled to a low paying corporate master. If you don’t know how you could generate an income from operating a website, I suggest you conduct some research, and learn what others are already learning to do.

    Journalists are supposed to have research skills, so go to Google and research terms such as “making websites made simple”. Then conduct your own research into the information you find and learn all that you can, you may possibly be pleasantly surprised.