What is journalism? A thing with feathers, gills and a c*ck that f*cks reality...

Deciding what journalism is and who is doing it is always subject to debate

“Ah, but they’re not a real journalist” is such a funny sneer as it brings to mind the vision of a bunch of journalists plying their trade in Narnia, writing trend pieces about the latest leg warmers for fawns and… uh… fawning columns about how the White Witch’s government causing endless winter is good actually.

Arguing about who and what constitutes real journalists and real journalism is one of the trade’s favourite hobbies, along with arguing about whether it’s a trade or a profession. The answers are: Journalism is a profession and what journalism is has the quality of a Doctor Who monster which shape-shifts to take on the form that terrifies you most. Journalism is a thing with feathers, and gills, a weird corkscrew cock that fucks reality.

I became a journalist in the year 2002, in so much as that was the first year I was paid a salary for doing journalism. But I had published journalism since I was 13, starting with a samizdat scandal sheet at high school which earned me a week’s suspension after my identity as the author of the insurrectionary anti-teacher material was revealed. My mum was quite proud.

I have remained a journalist ever since and my measure of what a journalist does is that the person bearing the label has a level of scepticism about what they are tile and a desire to find stories in whatever area they focus on. However, many journalists, especially those in the Lobby and working in the big beast jobs as Political Editors have all the useful curiosity of a stunned pheasant wandering about on a duel carriageway.

Columnists can be journalists but often they are simply writers. Journalism should be entertaining but it should also have a passing relationship to the truth — it should at least nod in that weird bloke way as it passes the truth on its way to drop the truthlets off at school.

Similarly, journalists don’t need to be breaking huge scoops or writing world changing reporting to be journalists. I was a journalist when I edited at Stuff and Q magazines, though the sphere of my professional interest was respectively gadgets then musicians. At its roots, journalism is telling stories that an audience doesn’t know already but for many newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, the exercise is a combination of surprising scoops and pre-chewed pablum that feeds the readers’ prejudices.

One thing that almost all journalists are is dysfunctional. To write, edit, present, design and/or take pictures for the media is at its heart a kind of narcissistic act. We like the byline and the attention. That this work sometimes changes things is really a happy side-effect.

And to the lovely people at The Telegraph who keep sending me the horrible emails — you’re not journalists so much as stenographers for the worst of British political thinking, working for bosses who might as well be sentient black holes 🕳, sucking all joy and light out of the world.