Born or made?

“Journalists, photographers and photojournalists have to be confident. They have to be ready to knock on doors and talk to strangers in the street. They must be inquisitive and they have to be ready to get the most out of their working day.” (National Council for the Training of Journalists, 2013)

Traditional consensus around skills and knowledge involved in practical journalism is typified by the vocational Diploma in Journalism offered by the industry training body the National Council for the Training of Journalists which is focused on “the vital skills of finding and telling stories accurately and to deadline”. The qualification requires examination in “essential media law” and “essential public affairs” which are both standard offerings on university journalism courses (National Council for the Training of Journalists, 2013).

Alongside requirements for reporting, recording, writing, technical and organisation skills, knowledge of law and public affairs, the NCTJ Guide for Trainee Journalists includes knowledge of “the world around you”, your industry, sources of information and codes of conduct and an extensive list of “character, attitude, knowledge and skills” you need to be a good reporter.  These are categorised into “those you can work on” and “those you are born with”.   The latter includes curiosity, an interest in people, intelligence, health, courage, belief in yourself, out-going (an ability to get on with all sorts of people), enthusiastic, determined, accurate, sceptical, thick-skinned and innovative (Smith, 2007).

On examination it’s a somewhat strange list: many highly successful journalists have notoriously unhealthy lifestyles; notions of courage, self-belief and determination can be identified with the acquisition of self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1994) and in most workplaces people often have to give at least an impression of engagement with colleagues and/or members of the public.  However in this list, the Randall list and other similar lists it is possible to identify requirements connected with curiosity, scepticism and enterprise that support the practical function of journalism as well as the activity of learning.

Beneath these discussions and the proposition that “a good journalist is born and not made” lie wide ranging philosophical debates about nature versus nurture referenced by geneticists in concepts of heritability and in social and political sciences in structure versus agency.

In order to categorise these requirements, a taxonomy is proposed which distinguishes between behaviours and qualities that are immutable in students or journalists (the predispositions) and those that are not (the dispositions).

The predispositions might be typified by attributes such as those involved in the “Big Five” or “OCEAN” dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism which have been shown to exhibit a high degree of stability among working age adults and across cultures (Digman, 1990).

In the proposed taxonomy these personality traits or predispositions underpin internally focussed dispositions such as self-efficacy and determination which supply energy and motivation.  The dispositions in turn underpin externally focussed qualities typified by curiosity, confidence and enterprise.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *