Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Are you waiting for approval?

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on June 28, 2010

Image credit: SleepyNeko on Flickr

A very insightful post from Deborah Bonello at VideoReporter.com today which poses a really important question any next generation journalist should ask themselves.

Comparing the life of an artist with that of a journalist, she makes a salient point about approval – and how it seems we’re all only as good as the establishment say we are.

The seal of approval

Widely speaking, as an artist, you’re as good as the gallery who puts on your show or the client who buys and gushes about your work. Otherwise, you’re an unknown, and your talent is questionable as it has yet to be given the mark of approval of a major art gallery or culture brand. There are of course exceptions to this, but bear with me.

As journalists, we all want to have been published by major media brands that are respected globally, whether as staffers or as freelance contributors. It is the BBC, and major newspapers and broadcasters who give us, as journalists, that stamp that says we have talent, that we’re good, that we can be trusted and should be listened to as reporters and storytellers. In fact, it isn’t until some have that seal of approval that they have the confidence to go off and start freelance careers.

And that’s an interesting point isn’t it? For as much as independent journalists talk about ‘doing something different’ many still crave that job in a big newsroom. They still need that ‘seal of approval’.

Why is that? Why do we need an editor at the BBC to tell us we’re any good? Why does our name have to be a byline in the Boston Globe or LA Times before we’re deemed ‘good enough’? What makes them so important? One thing’s for sure: if they do give your work the ‘seal of approval’ by publishing it, they won’t pay much for it these days.

Who is stopping you?

But as Deborah points out, things are changing: ‘The internet offers you the opportunity to build your very own journalism brand, around yourself’ she says. Right on.

You can create and publish journalism that doesn’t need a seal of approval from a mid-ranking editor and build a formidable reputation around your own skills – around a shit hot news product which provides good content to a target audience who needs it. Seems tough? It is – your content will need to be great (which is why I’m not worried about standards). You’re up to that right?

I really think if  more journalists were willing to work to please themselves and not a distant editor, we would get somewhere. If more didn’t view their talent as questionable but as extraordinary and unique.

Deborah didn’t wait to be deemed worthy by a London newspaper before flying to Mexico and starting MexicoReporter.com – she did it anyway, and became, almost single-handedly, an important media player in the region. The mainstream media then came to her.

So next time you’re on the verge of doing something epic, something exciting – but you think you can’t or shouldn’t do, remember a bit of the great Ayn Rand: the question isn’t ‘who is going to let me?’.

It’s ‘who is going to stop me?’

5 Responses

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  1. ChrisG said, on June 29, 2010 at 6:54 am

    I completely disagree with this ethos. You don’t have to be published in the mainstream to have talent…

    I’m in the same boat as your case study. I’ve set up something from scratch, and think it is more satisfying knowing you set up something yourself, rather than just being a slave to the mainstream. It’s so much more rewarding.

    And it is steadily growing….

    http://www.plentyonyourplate.com

    • Deborah Bonello said, on June 29, 2010 at 10:25 am

      Hey Chris – good for you. I’ve done the same in the past.

      Honestly, I don’t think there’s any denying that the majority of journalists and aspiring journalists still see a mainstream job, or getting published by mainstream media, as a measure of success. I’m not saying that’s right, but I think that’s how it is.

      But I agree, we have to create our own products and we’re totally qualified to do so.

      Thanks for the mention, Adam.

  2. Jena Olson said, on June 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Here here. Thanks for the dose of inspiration on a day when it was much needed.

  3. […] Are you waiting for approval to go out and do something epic? […]

  4. Prime said, on July 7, 2010 at 10:44 am

    It’s not just journalists and artists, but a lot of people were conditioned that in order to succeed in one’s career, one has to gain approval from those who have the power and prestige – the so-called gatekeepers such as the editor, the curator, the manager, the expert. it’s all about validation and pinning one’s self worth to this validation. I confess that I’m one of those who craved for that validation- chasing jobs in big media companies, connecting with some important editors, joining (and winning) awards. In the end, however I got burned out and realized that this is not what I want (I esp dont want pandering to egoistic editors who think themselves as the only arbiters of good journalism) i prefer to be independent and more entrepreneurial – and I don’t need validation from gatekeepers.

    Thanks a lot for this inspiring post.


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