By Jay Kirell
From the time I was old enough to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew I was going to be a writer.
Originally, I just wanted to be a sports writer. I would read Newsday every morning, flipping through all the stories about both the teams I followed and those I didn’t, just to get the rhythm of how a game story is written. I would practice writing my own game reports on an old electric typewriter while the game would play on television in the background.
My first “writing gig” was for my school newspaper, covering Hofstra University’s field hockey team, which had just been on a three-game road trip, lost all the games, and my first assignment was to go interview the coach and get a quote from her and write up a short (because, field hockey) 300-word brief based on games I hadn’t seen and a sport I knew nothing about.
My first sentence was “A lack and talent and effort lead to the Flying Dutchmen dropping three games last week.”
I learned a day after the story came out the field hockey team stormed the student newspaper office looking for me. They ended up writing a strongly-worded letter to the editor and I was pulled off the field hockey beat.
One of the editors later told me he never heard of the newspaper getting an angry response to a sports article before.
It was then I was sure this was what I wanted to do. After a while I did a feature on gender equity that majorly pissed off both the school’s athletic department and its administration. It was a feature that utilized FOIA requests and documents and volatile quotes from administrators against female athletes and coaches. It sparked my move towards covering news and that’s when I got a greater appreciation for journalism as a noble profession and not just a cool way to sit in a press box, eat food and write about sports.
WhiIe I never graduated from Hofstra with a degree in journalism, I took enough classes to learn from some of the best and spent long enough in the field to have a working understanding of the job and those that practice it. And while “journalism” may be a dying profession, due to low pay, competition, and being one of the least-respected jobs in America, there are sill journalists out there doing good work. Of course, there are journalists out there doing bad work too, but such is the case when molding public opinion walks hand-in-hand with fact-checking these days.
These professional journalists – fact-finders, fact-checkers, molders of public opinion – these are the men and women who we rely on to keep us informed. And from what I’ve observed, these journalists, no matter if they’re broadcast, print or online, fall into five categories.
Five distinct types of journalists, existing in the same media jungle, but oftentimes at odds with one another like different species of animals.
Those five types are journalists are as follows:
5. The Good Cop
The classically-trained, cautious, thorough journalist who rose up the ranks with equal parts good judgment and good bullshit detecting. Most New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal reporters fall into this category. They’re professional, if somewhat cozy with those in power, which leaves them open to accusations they trade favorable stories for access. This also applies to pretty much all sports writers and reporters at all levels.
4. The Bad Cop
The hyper-partisan who makes his money screaming about those in power, as long as those in power are the political enemy. They have certain journalistic skills – such as communication – but lack the ethics to go along with it. They qualify as journalists in the same way pandas qualify as bears, even though they’re completely lazy and mostly useless. Think the Drudge Report, Breitbart, Bill O’Reilly, Ed Shultz, Al Sharpton or basically nine out of 10 cable news hosts.
3. The Stenographer
This type of journalist takes both sides of an argument and leaves it there for the audience to decide, with little background information or context. Cable news “debate” shows like Crossfire are an extreme example. A more mainstream version would be whatever it is Meet the Press turned into after Tim Russert died. This would also include pretty much every young reporter just starting out in the business who doesn’t want to jeopardize their career by upsetting one side or the other.
2. The Aristotle
This type of journalist is ideological, but not an ideologue. They have a definite point of view, but present both sides, with context and depth. Generally respectful, but tenacious at the same time. The two best examples of this are MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Dish’s Andrew Sullivan. Both have a definite point of view, defend it, but also make sure to explain why they’re taking the point of view they are. Oftentimes they are equal parts philosopher and journalist.
1. The Rogue
This is the type of journalist that in a lot of ways is the product of the 21st century, but a throwback at the same time. Most commonly associated with muckrakers, the rogue journalists work outside the normal system, have complicated histories that can’t be easily pinned down as regular partian, and traffic in critics who question their style, motives and ethics. This type of journalist can trace their roots to the likes of George Orwell and Upton Sinclair, but in today’s climate, it can be found in anywhere from TMZ to Glenn Greenwald. TMZ for the questionable way it attains its stories (paying for them); Greenwald for the questionable way he attains his stories (espionage/classified leaks).
All five types play their part in shaping public opinion. Often telling us what to think, and who to think about. The types we tend trust and the types we don’t tell us a lot about how we view not only America, but the role of journalism in it today.
An industry many hate, but many more need. A profession low in pay, but high in importance.
A profession I used to dabble in, and maybe one day will again. If I can figure out what type of journalist I want to be.