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Journalists are increasingly called upon to play tightrope walker on a razor’s edge

A carte blanche from François-Xavier Druet. Doctor of Philosophy and Letters.

Do you dream of being a journalist? Calmos! Because the statute is everything, except a sinecure. Isn’t the task of informing more than ever trapped in a sort of Gordian knot?

The very nature of the profession places it at the crossroads of contradictory demands. The sociologist Patrick Champagne (1) underlines it: “There is practically no big press of general information which can obey pure intellectual considerations. Competition, urgency, sales considerations and political constraints weigh permanently, in varying proportions depending on the media, on the production and dissemination of information. But on these “basic” pressures, he adds, is now grafted that of the increasing speed of information.

From speed to the carousel

Too quickly, the use of the Internet has induced with the public that it is possible – as an ideal to pursue? – to announce an event almost at the time it occurs. This quasi-instantaneity subjects all the information professions to several temptations.

Most obvious incentive: to consider it crucial to be the first on the ball. The best informant would be the fastest, even if it means risking a clash for not having sufficiently cross-checked the sources. But, even though the ad is in fine proven, it was launched without the slightest hindsight. The choice is always required: to balance the raw fact to get ahead of the competitors or to take the time to match it with contextual elements that enlighten it and give it its true scope? Analysis and immediacy hardly ever sympathize.

Second temptation: let yourself be overwhelmed by the fact of the day to the point of refusing any room for other areas of interest. How many times lately have we seen pages and screens submerged by the subject of the moment, blown up, without measure amplified by this exclusivity? In these cases, it seems that something else, for example an in-depth reflection, no longer deserves to be taken into account or published. Something else only exists in the margins.

The third temptation completes the previous one: to jump from scoop to scoop, erasing the other on the spot to magnify one. Tracking the consequences of one is eclipsed by the new revelation. Continuous carousel of the discontinuous.

The rate of release, which has become infernal, of information therefore seriously undermines journalistic work. But other challenges are not negligible either. They cast suspicion on the credibility of traditional media.

Politicians unhappy with their media image accuse journalists of knowingly disguising reality. They themselves prefer to disguise it in their own way, if not even to create their own “information” channel. Conspirators denounce the alleged complicity of the official media with a system – the “deep state” – supposed to cover the multiple abuses of a corrupt caste – even pedophile and satanic – which rules against the interests of the people. Communication experts manipulate the media: they construct “information” from scratch intended to hoist such an individual, such a party, such a belief.

How and with what morale to continue working when your word is discredited by some? When it is counterbalanced by others who establish themselves as journalists for a day or for always without having any specific skills? And when these pseudo-informants find a shocking audience with an audience that bad faith and lies seem to seduce rather than repel?

Let’s face it: more and more journalists are called upon to play tightrope walker on a razor’s edge. The stakes are high: reliable information. The unusual qualities required of those who provide information? To sort out the facts and the words to say them, let them be lucid arbiters rather than advocates of arbitrariness.

>>> 1 Patrick Champagne, Double dependency. Some remarks on the relationships between the political, economic and journalistic fields, pp. 129-146, in Journalism, Les Essentiels d’Hermès, Editions du CNRS, 2009.

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