Good Journalism

Posted by Potion
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on Wednesday, 11 July 2007
in Digital Blogs
I often find myself annoyed at the what I perceive to be poor journalism, which usually involves incorrect use of language, incomplete facts, and unqualified opinion.I confess I am not a journalist, though I have written some short stories, a few technical manuals, and have had the odd proof-reading or editing gig. But a journalist? Never. Too quick to criticise, I've never really challenged myself to consider what makes a good journalist. Until now. And what better way than to look at the work of the journalist I admire most, Australian-born John Pilger. (Website:

John Pilger always presents the bigger picture and the context. He sets the scene as an unaffected observer. He doesn't take a position, and he doesn't allow his own culture and personal values to filter the scene.

He operates from a universal system of values that embody just one thing: human dignity. If someone's dignity is denied, then there must be someone else nearby abusing their privileged position. And if someone rationalises questionable actions by blaming policy, rules or law, he homes in on that. (Ever been told "you can't do that, it's company policy", or "budget won't allow it" as if the 'company' and the 'budget' are sentient beings able to make their own decisions without human intervention?) Someone, or some group made the policy. Find them and you will probably find villans.

He is able to assume the worldview of each player in the story; in other words, he endeavours to put himself into their position, and see it from their point of view. For example, just 40 years ago some people believed the world was flat, and the movement of celestial bodies was lubricated with human blood, and so human sacrifice was necessary. To eat the victims was fine, too. To a modern outsider the rationale is bizarre, but to the all Borneans (except possibly the victim) this was perfectly normal.

Once the scene is set, John then points out to his audience a few anomalies in the picture. His ability to simply "notice" is astounding. He notices what isn't right, what doesn't fit.

And then he investigates. Fact after fact after fact. Accuracy is paramount. And interview after interview. Generally his starting point is innocuous enough for there to be little interest, but invariably his investigation ends in the annals of corporate or political power.

And then the story. He presents the facts as they are. No more and no less. He presents the interviews exactly as they were recorded. No more and no less. He never guesses and he never lies. And he never offers his subjective opinion without the irrefutable backup. Sometimes it appears that he doesn't offer an opinion or draw a conclusion at all. He simply unearths all the detail and presents it in such a way that his readers and viewers can come away with an obvious conclusion.

Basically the truth hits hardest; demonstrated in John Pilger's status as persona non grata in so many countries around the world. And even though he starts just trying to find out what's going on, he usually ends in a place where there is no doubt who the power-hungry or greedy or egotistical aggressors are.

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