Editorial: when journalists collide and professionalism slips

In a rare off-topic post, tech journalism is full of bitching and scathing attacks. But should it be? When did idle threats and hostility overtake common sense? Article
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

I have wanted to be a journalist since I was a wee lad. Without any real prior experience in working the field of news, I landed myself a place here at ZDNet, part of CBS Interactive. My best friend, Elliot Harrison, describes me as "the luckiest git on the planet", and he would be right. My career path has predominantly been down to blind luck and little else.

This is my 300th post here on ZDNet. As with my 200th, I hope to share a poignant thought with you, the reader, and the rest of the technosphere.

I started at Microsoft by accidentally insulting the UK's Head of Communications. Honesty can get you places you wouldn't dream; by working amongst the positions of power or ending up sponging off the welfare state for the rest of your life.

Working in the very-public facing industry that I do, I've spent a year learning the in's and outs of this industry. Even though I'm not planning on leaving any time soon (or getting my arse handing to me on a plate for that matter) I continue to learn even the most simplest of things: how to treat other people, for example.

I'll give one good example. Only the other day, I received an email from a company filling me in on a product/service and asked if I would be interested in a press release. As I was on my BlackBerry at the time, I replied simply with:

"Don't care. Adding in my colleague, xxxxxxx, so [they] can no doubt refuse you too."

Now, even though I was in a foul mood at the time due to some work-related issues which I will mention later, I still reacted in a very rude, unnecessary way, even though I didn't swear or personally attack them. I could have easily, but didn't on this occasion - partly because I was on my phone.

The vast majority of journalists are incredibly busy, balancing work and home lives by a thread. I get dozens of emails every single day spread across a number of email accounts, some work related and some very pointless ones - emails which are spammed to a list of journalists hoping they'll pick it up, without taking the time or effort to investigate the journalist's remit.

My remit is clear. Students and technology, the next generation of technology including emerging technology which students would be interested in, and careers. Anything outside that remit will fall to someone else in the ZDNet team, and I try not to tread on anyone's toes without prior permission. Nevertheless, there is no excuse to speak to someone in that way. We're all trying to do a job; it takes very little extra effort to put even a fake smile on your face and retort in a polite manner.

Another example. Over the course of last week, a person I work in close proximity to here at the university went from being a mutual-worst enemy to a highly-respected friend. Through no fault of his own, I took the opportunity to personally assault his character in the privacy of his own office, in person, with only me and this person present. A week later, after walking around Canterbury at 2am with him to settle the score (no fatalities, I assure you), we resolved our differences and I now have a huge amount of respect for this person.

But being a campus environment and the organisation we both work in, news (or gossip) spreads incredibly quickly, faster than a south California wildfire. This is the same incidence as the technology world - with Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and emails spreading round news faster than can be humanly conceived, containing these things without resorting to first-degree murder is next to impossible.

I have taken a thorough look at myself as not only a technology journalist but also a person, and aim to spend this summer holiday working through my own aforementioned "anger" issues. The way we treat each other, inside and outside the technosphere needs to be addressed, because our own professionalism rests in the balance.

For those who read the Arrington vs. Laporte post, this is the root point of my article.

Some thoughts to take away from this:

  • Be very careful what you write because once you hit "Send" or any variant of the word, you will find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible to retract it. With search engines indexing our web-public lives, things can be found from years ago to bite you on the arse when you least expect it.
  • Treat everyone with respect because you never know, in a week, a month or a years' time, you may find someone you have treated badly either takes your job or takes your bosses job, rendering yours useless. You never know who people know; you might find that your boss went to school with someone you have treated with disrespect.
  • Pick your battles very carefully as you may think from time to time, with your position or readership that you develop a God-complex. This will be your undoing. Remain humble that you have got as far as you have done because getting sacked is much easier than getting hired nowadays.
  • The past will come back to haunt you so it is best you be careful with what you do and say from the very beginning.

I'm still waiting for my comeuppance, but I know it will be thoroughly deserved.

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