I’m a “freelancer” now.
I know, doesn’t it sound exotic?
Actually, it’s a euphemism for “poor” but let’s not allow that get in the way of recording the associated advantages: staying in your pyjamas until all hours of the afternoon, leaving for work at 6 pm, and filling your head and diary with eclectic projects, many of which are yet to come into fruition.
My main job, remarkably, is in television. Would you believe, I translate and write news items, apparently watched by millions. (Don’t worry, there are lots of checks by more experienced people before my words turn into broadcasts).
I’ve only done a few shifts but I am learning rapidly how “news” works.
When I arrive at the office, I sit down at a computer and open a software programme which contains a run-down of all the news items due to be broadcast on the upcoming show.
Reports tend not to last more than about 2 and a half minutes and shorter bulletins are over within 25 seconds. So brevity and clarity are essential.
So is understanding exactly what a story is about. It takes an expert to break something down into its barest form.
You have to work quickly. If a story is breaking, you need to sift through the information coming through the wires, distil it, find appropriate pictures and videos to accompany it and finally send it on to somebody who will produce it and fix any technical glitches.
It’s a huge responsibility.
And it’s that responsibility which I have been thinking about.
It’s important to remember how lucky I – and I assume most of my readers – are to live in an area of the world with an independent media and in an era in which information can go global in seconds.
More people have more access to more information than ever before.
As a result of this mass circulation and sharing of information, we can get away with having fewer sources.
And because the media now works like a web, rather than through straight lines as it used to, things can get tangled up more easily.
Since newspapers and television rely in a huge part on “wires” (=news agencies like Reuters and Associated Press) the pressure and responsibility on those reporters to be 100% accurate is enormous.
News agencies are a business. They can’t afford to send their reporters absolutely everywhere in the world, particularly not to every war-torn country with poor infrastructure and hostility to foreigners. So, our news comes from the people who happen to be stationed in certain parts of the world.
The headlines we get are a political, social and economic reflection on western life and values.
And it’s important to remember that we probably miss as many stories as we run.
Having been surrounded by extraordinarily hard-working and intelligent journalists, I’m far from disillusioned by how the media works. But I am becoming more aware of how arbitrary the selection and presentation of news has always been and will remain.
Things are moving in the right direction. Tweets fly off from the obscurest of locations, bloggers are becoming more influential, and technology is advancing in the developing world.
However, manipulation is becoming easier and more sophisticated, and misrepresentations can spread like wildfire.
I’m only starting out in the field and I am young and stupid. My main concern though is a noble one. I want to tell a truthful story well. And if that means staying small-scale and telling you about a a spindly old man and his giant dog, or about the old man who couldn’t stop falling, at least you know that these are things that I have seen with my own eyes, not images which have landed on my screen after rushing through the wires. And no matter how timid a voice I am on the blogosphere, the fact that I have one screams volumes about the democracy which we should never, ever take for granted.