If you love news, don't be a journalist

Matt Gardner - Online columnist

I realised last night what my job had turned me into. Sat in bed listening to the radio, I heard that Morgan Freeman had been in a car crash, his condition was serious but that he was stable. It was the first piece of news in a month that genuinely made my heart jump with the thrilling mixture of shock and excitement.

Before I started working as a journalist, I used to get that with most stories across any field of my interest, which was most things: entertainment, sport, current affairs, music, film … you name it.

However, as I now read up to 75 or 80 stories a day from my desk, I don't have time to be interested in news. That is - of course - unless it interests my client.

As a writer for a news agency, I'm not a textbook journalist - the stereotype does not apply to me. Ultimately, I write for and interact with nine clients across a diverse field of subjects, including mortgages, construction, online gambling, trade unions and sleep.

I suppose the idealistic and hopeful journalists-to-be may criticise this. It won't help when I add that I write up to 25 articles a day - since labelled "churnalism" by several people - but the truth of the matter is that many "real" journalists may cover less in a day of things that they are not interested in - I'm perfectly happy in what I do and I do enjoy it.

The rate of knowledge absorption is off the scale. Within a month I have learned the intricacies conservation and energy efficiency. I know where to get the best two-year fixed-rate mortgage (if still possible). I even know the effects of the credit crunch on the holiday industry and, as a result, where the best driving holiday in Europe is.

It's the little things, right?

Well perhaps not. I've noticed a worrying pattern emerging. To be a journalist - especially in the volume that I process - you have to be only interested in your assignments. It's the same in any journalism job but with the amount of deadlines I have to meet, I have probably experienced similar in a month to what a regular newspaper journalist would see in a year - and my attitudes have adjusted accordingly.

As much as I may be labelled heartless by some, I didn't feel anything for the situation over in Antigua where the newlyweds were shot dead. As awful as it is, I did not react aside from wishing a painless death to the husband who, if he survived, would probably not want to live anyway. Similarly, hearing about 16 Chinese policemen getting slaughtered at the hands of a pair of terrorists did not even raise an eyebrow.

The bottom line? When you work in news, you're no longer surprised by it. When you're not surprised by it, you have no emotional attachment to it.

Before I started work with the online agency I work for, I thought I'd never get sick of news. When you work in the industry, you pray for your work to be made easier by relevance - everything else is superfluous.

So when I hear news about the mortgage market in its death throes, I find myself rejoicing. If I hear that the credit crunch has resulted in widespread, country-demobilising strikes, I relax more. When MRSA is wreaking havoc in hospitals and care homes, I feel comfortable.

News is brilliant until you work in it. After that, you're desensitised to everything and find yourself enjoying socio-economic disasters. Why? Because that's the news that really affects us, except it's my job to write it - not get worried by it.

It's akin to a policeman counselling every victim of a crime; a soldier lamenting the loss of every adversary they've shot; a pathologist learning about the life and personality of each motionless piece of meat on the slab. If you get too involved in things that do not concern you in your first port of call as an employee, the quality of your work will drop.

To all of the budding journalists out there - the world of news is never how it seems in the job description.

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