What If? Damocles was a Journalist.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I actually do have formal journalistic training, having studied it in university.

The job of a journalist, despite the hyperbole and hatred surrounding the job in contemporary times, has always been to distil something vastly complex, into simpler terms.

It is not solely focused on finding out “the truth” as some crusaders might think, but instead 90% of the job is merely translating complicated issues into “layman” terms.

The truth behind something is already there. Anyone can find it by asking questions and digging in places where you shouldn’t. It is the process of “translating” that is where many people’s issues with the press lie.

Having studied history early in my life, due to an unhealthy obsession with all things Roman (re: The Sword of Damocles), what really surprised me in the process was the idea that the school of history was divided into many different interpretations ranging from the Annales school to the Marxist style of historiography.

What I had previously assumed was largely neutral, was now filled with many different coloured lens.

Of course, this shocked me. History was scientific. Dates, places and people were here and there … how can it be interpreted by so many schools?

How could events be twisted, manipulated and skewed in so many ways? You can’t argue that the Battle of Waterloo wasn’t a resounding victory for the British could you?

As it turned out, you can.

You can argue about how Napoleon was a dictator, a short, coarse Corsican who were thwarted by the heroic British.

Or inversely, you can define the first Emperor of France to be a brilliant tactician, whose men were so fiercely loyal to him, that they surrendered to him without a thought upon his return in 1815 and that his Napoleonic Code is the basis for much of Europe’s post feudal legal system.

This type of debate is incredibly common in history, with all types of figures, people and civilisations. For as many supporters of Ancient Egypt, there are an equal number of detractors. Then there are those who engage in biblical archaeology which seeks to bring a scientific and historical methodology to the stories of the bible and in that field there are billions of different thoughts.

History, as it turned out, is extremely open to how you choose to view things. With 20/20 hindsight or none, history is actually genuinely very subjective to your political and personal views.

After all, I choose to glamourise the Roman Empire … but to live in it during that time period was anything but. Does that stop me from romanticising that era of history though? Definitely not.

Thus, armed with a bitter cynicism, and a healthy amount of skepticism from my history lessons, when I entered the newsroom and learned about “left vs. right” I was hardly surprised.

After all journalists are merely contemporary historiographers. They are reporting on “history” in real time, with instantaneous bias, just as historiographers have done with past events.

This is the normal, and to think that the media in the past were any different is to dangerously assume that humanity at some point in history, wasn’t full of bullshit ideology.

Which of course, it has always been full of. That is just human nature.

The news today, is no more egregious than it was in the past when instead of discussing how crucial transgenderism is to the fabric of society, they were actively encouraging young men to sign up for the war effort against some foreign enemy, whether they be American, German, British, Iraqi, Japanese, Russian or whatever country did wrong against yours.

You, yourself, have merely grown up and recognised the fallacies of the 4th Estate and how it reports the news. Mix that in, with your own personal beliefs and political views, you will naturally fall into the left or the right category and lavish vitriol on journalists whose “news interpretations” clash with your bias.

Knowing all of this however, and having studied science in the past, I still wanted to become a journalist.

In particular, a War Journalist, so that I could mix my passion for the military with my current skills as a writer. I was inspired by the exploits of men like Michael Ware, whose raw bravery and talent in reporting in the most difficult of circumstances made for compelling journalism.

I was also fully aware that people hated the press. But strangely, that empowered me to want to seek out the underlying truth behind things more. I wasn’t afraid of the backlash I would receive, as I thought I was doing important work.

That is the basic tenacity any journalist must have in their arsenal though. For the millions that ignore you, spit at you, curse you and shove you away, there are always the hundreds that come to you, seeking repatriation for ill deeds and desperate for their voice to be heard about the caucus.

I remember excelling in long-form journalism, as the narrative style suited my writing methods best. For my first and so far only journalistic piece, I wrote about the mental health stigma in the Australia-Asian young community and how many of these young people felt marginalised, unsupported and unheard due to their health issues.

I asked a lot of people whether they wanted to be interviewed. I believe it was over 30 people.

Only 2 replied, but their interviews gave me more than enough information to write a compelling piece.

There is a strange intimacy when it comes to conducting interviews. It is a tricky balance of empathetic and interrogative. I need to steer the conversation, whilst allowing time for the subject to think, reply and emote.

I’ve always likened the process to the fastest seductive game ever played. I need to cajole, reassure, probe and investigate you as a person and the story you are telling me. It is seductive in nature, because I need to convince a stranger that they can trust me, to not only listen to their story but then to entrust me with their story.

After all, there is no worse feeling for a subject, to find that their words, their story has been twisted into a facsimile of what they felt is the right way of telling their personal tale. An occasion that has no doubt happened far too many times.

As you can probably tell in this What If? series so far, a lot of the jobs that I have chosen to be potential career avenues have all involved some element of deductive work and investigative techniques. Whether it is being a spy, a racer or a journalist, in some shape or form, there is a mystery to be solved and I would like to get to the bottom of it, whether it is the missing tenth of a second on a lap or a drug cartel’s subterranean lair, I want to find out why and how things happen.

Of all the jobs that I’ve considered, journalism is probably the closest I’ve got into venturing in that field, simply because my university was so immersive in providing its’ education. We had a proper newsroom, complete with recording equipment and 10 TV screens, always showcasing different news channels, I was told to simply “get out there and find a story” and overall, the whole process was more “on the job” learning than it was reading some dry textbook and doing lame exercises.

I remember volunteering for the student-run online newspaper, where I would write my movie reviews (which have carried on, in this blog) and investigating weird trends like Antarctic Tourism, which I actually held a prolonged interview about.

It is one of those things that I still love about journalism though … it is the access to insider knowledge that you can get, simply because you are the press. People are simultaneously too closed off and too open when the microphone is thrust upon them.

There is an almost instinctive need to tell the truth when a journalist asks you questions.

Only trained liars can avoid that instinctive urge and even then … it takes an experienced liar to sound convincing.

It is why so many people avoid the microphone like a plague. It is almost like they don’t trust themselves to be convincing.

That behaviour has always struck me as interesting. Even when I am the one being interviewed and am aware of all the tricks, there is a bizarre sensation of discomfort and an urgent desire to sound erudite, educated and exceptional.

Of course, most of the time, we sound like a bumbling idiot, and as an amateur journalist, I can definitely say that the worst part of the interview is trawling through 10 minutes of babbling nonsense to get 2 usable quotes in your article.

In a lot ways, being a journalist has become encoded in my DNA. I think you can perceive that in my writing.

I have a habit of distancing my emotions, whilst reporting on them simultaneously. I like to be factual, neutral and matter-of-fact when it comes to expressing or explaining things. Perhaps the thing most “un-journalistic” trait of my writing is my constant usage of complex words, simply because I wish to express my vocabulary and enjoy seeing alliteration in my descriptions. That … I pin on my fictional writing side.

This style though is part of a vow I took, when I first discovered the true nature of journalism, to present complicated issues, as factual I could, without any inherent bias, left or right (even though I am leaning left most of the time.) I dislike trying to convince or sway the public, preferring to let them come to their own conclusions about things.

Such neutrality however, means that I am unlikely ever to find a job in contemporary journalism, simply because of the inherent political nature of the industry nowadays. It is no longer profitable to just present the facts, now unwarranted analysis and subjective viewpoints are offered to grab attention with explosive headlines.

In a lot of ways, the 4th Estate has become more commercialised than ever before, with news from all types of corporations and organisations bombarding your internet browser upon opening it. With such commercialisation however, I think they have lost their focus.

Too much attention is angled at global news, due to the effects of globalism, causing people to suffer from a world weariness that was not really present in previous generations. After all, it is difficult to escape news from abroad, whether it be the latest doings of America, China, England or France.

Previous generations, merely had to read the paper once a week, and it focused purely on national news, with a section called “Global” if you were curious what else was happening around the world. This allowed people to be aware of the issues in their own country and focus on those problems. There wasn’t a need to worry about what a stranger 20,000kms away was going through and bemoan the state of affairs in that country too.

Privatisation of companies have also meant that news now had to be paid for, hidden behind paywalls just to generate revenue. Perhaps one of the main reasons why I defend the Guardian so much, is because they are one of the few news organisation that doesn’t hide their article behind a paywall, a stance that I back 100%, despite 80% of their content being leftist drivel.

I will admit, that I have a great fondness for them too, simply because the 20% of their long-form journalism is unmatched anywhere in the world, and that their investigations have burst open plenty of secrets, something that I aspired to do had I considered this career.

That is the point of being an educated reader though. If I am seeing too much leftist viewpoints from the Guardian, I should balance it with the more right outlooks from Fox or seek centrist perspectives like Financial Review. Then I can finally make up my mind about an issue, finally having considered all the coloured lens.

This open research into the smallest or the largest issues, is a trait that many people lack today, and should be taught as a habit for a lot of the population. Being informed is such an important critical analysis skill and in a lot of ways, is the best defensive tool against accidental indoctrination and the echo chambers of social media.

Despite these issues, I still consider journalism a crucial part of any functioning society and will always defend journalists who make it their mission to inform a grateful or ungrateful public.

Everyone dislike journalists, because they expose things that were better hidden and are as fallible in telling the news as non-journalists.

But you can’t despise someone for being human, and having an emotional response to a piece of history. In a lot of ways, journalists have always been the modern-day historians, forced to interpret “live” events in a way that appeal to their audience.

Just like Marxists and Annales historians argue over the French Revolution, Fox News argue with the CNN over the efficacy of Donald Trump.

These are just two viewpoints on an historical event. It is up to you, as an informed reader and member of the public, to carefully consider both points, acknowledge their merits and pitfalls and seek the middle truth between the two factions.

In a strange way, perhaps there is a need for journalists whose sole job is to simply find the middle ground, present both pros and cons of both ideologies and let the public decide.

This What If? is a strange one, because whilst I am not a true career journalist, deep down, I still hold the tenets and values of non-subjective news-reporting dear to me, and still practice it in everything I write.

What a pity, I suppose, I don’t have the energy to be that middle ground journalist.

There is a sore need for it.

~ Damocles

Spider-Man (2002). J.K Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, in what might be the most comically accurate live action casting ever. He will always be my favourite part of the Raimi trilogy, undisputedly great.

Just one final diverting point, I always found it amusing that people decry the supposedly “modern issue” of private owners of news organisations, who are free to espouse, endorse and encourage certain viewpoints through the media (Rupert Murdoch et al.).

This isn’t a 2000s issue … Stan Lee made a point of it, when he created J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle who only ever ran smear campaigns of Spider-Man, back in 1963.

It just goes to show that nothing is original, only repackaged.

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