Monday, July 13, 2020

Beware The "Veteran" Journalist

The other day I read a description of someone that included a phrase I always dread in several ways: “veteran journalist.”

That two-word label undoubtedly was intended as a mark of respect or to lend credibility to something the journalist wrote or said. It implied expertise and knowledge based on length of service in a job or profession. Time equals wisdom, right?

I don’t think so. I take the view of UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman who wrote in Psychology Today that at some point in life, we stop learning and become "knowers."

Journalists are particularly vulnerable to this.

The longer a reporter covers politics the more often he or she references long-ago elections in the hope of providing context. It’s easy to reference the losing re-election efforts of one-term presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush when opining about Trump’s re-election campaign. But those defeats are irrelevant to the 2020 election because of drastically changed demographics, socio-political upheaval, and the demonstrable mental instability of the President himself.

And it’s not necessarily age the transition from learning to knowing and stasis. There are  journalists of all ages who take the easy path and reach back to irrelevant ideas and stats to enhance their alleged sagacity.

So, should we ignore the “knowers” because they haven’t moved forward in their learning? Not at all. There are any number of worthwhile journalistic traditions and standards that remain relevant today and must be passed on an reinforced by writers and editors who worked under them and absorbed their value. Some of the best interviewers are those with enough experience to know when to push, pull back or even walk out.

And, no, journalists don’t necessarily mentally check out when they hit a certain point in their career. Certainly some rely on their description as “veterans” to sustain the flow of paychecks. But others, who aren’t necessarily keeping up on every nuance of every minute change in society still have the smarts to understand what they can contribute and add to the knowledge of others. Those are the ones we should listen to.

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