How to Become a Journalist (a real journalist, that is)

Greg_Palast_in_his_NYC_office with quoteAs you can tell from my website design, I feel a kind of nostalgia for the old days, when journalists worked on manual typewriters from remote locations. I know it’s an imaginary world, where  journalistic integrity was paramount and writers would hunker down in the firing line in order to get a good story. The vast majority of them then, as now, were hacks who covered the stories they were told to cover from the comfort of their desks. It may be an imaginary world, but it’s one that a real journalist, Greg Palast, has adopted in creating his online persona, too.

Alas, that’s about all he and I have in common. I’m just a blogger with a small following and don’t have the means or contacts you need to break a story. Palast has broken some huge stories, but if you live in the United States and get your news from mainstream sources, you may not know it. For example, in a recent piece for the Guardian, How Barack Obama could end the Argentina debt crisis, he exposes how one man, vulture hedge-fund Paul Singer, brought Argentinia to its knees financially simply to line his own pockets. With one signature, Obama could save Argentina, but he doesn’t. Why? Palast speculates that it’s because Singer is too powerful to mess with. interviewed Palast in 2013. One question the interviewer asked was: “How to be an Investigative Journalist.”

My first recommendation is: You want to be a journalist, don’t go to fucking journalism school where they pull your brains out, where they hypnotise you and tell you to bleach your teeth and write in reverse pyramid style. Screw that. Second: avoid taking jobs from these motherfuckers. Stay off their fucking payroll.

So what’s wrong with attending journalism school and moving on to a career in mainstream news? Nothing, if you don’t mind towing the line and not doing any real investigative journalism. Palast cites Dan Rather as an example of a corporate journalist who “for one minute in his life repeated one of my stories that George Bush weaselled out of going to Vietnam ’cause his daddy got him into the Texas Air Guard. The one real story that Dan Rather did in his entire career and he gets fired.”

I’ve embedded the full video below. It’s only 8 minutes long, but some of the stuff Palast reveals will blow your mind. Guaranteed: you’ll get more out of these 8 minutes than you have gotten out of a lifetime of watching the evening news. If 8 minutes is too long for you, at least watch the first few minutes, when Palast talks about the most harrowing story he’s broken. It’s about George Bush’s involvement with an African gold mining company. To “seize control of a gold mine in Africa”, he says, they “rolled bulldozers over the property to get rid of the small scale miners that were there. But those miners were still in their mines. George Bush’s company and Barrett[?] Gold Mining buried alive 50 people.”

hunter s thompsonHunter S Thompson is another famous journalist who didn’t think too highly of a career in mainstream journalism. BoingBoing recently reminded us of that when they re-published Thompson’s hilarious cover letter for a job at the Vancouver Sun in 1958. “The enclosed clippings”, he writes, “should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.”

abby martin interviewing john perkins
Abby Martin interviewing John Perkins

Abby Martin started out as an artist. I’m not sure how she got into journalism, but I’ve seen a YouTube video of her interviewing people on the street in Oakland. Her name wasn’t even mentioned on the video, but I recognised her face. Apparently, that’s what she was doing when someone from RT offered her a job as a reporter for the “Russian propaganda” network. Then she was offered her own timeslot and Breaking the Set was born. I’ve been watching it on TV here in Cambodia since the first season. Now, thanks in part to mainstream media’s silly attempts to discredit her, she’s almost a household name in America. The name of her show says it all: Abby is on a mission to expose the mainstream media for the vacuous pseudo-journalism it is. She has interviewed Greg Palast and Amber Lyon, the award winning CNN journalist who quit when she was not allowed to air a segment on human rights abuses in Bahrain.

I can’t close without mentioning the case of popular Australian media personality Mike Carlton, who quit his long-standing job with Fairfax Media over the firestorm of controversy that erupted over his criticism of Israel. It takes guts to stand up to the corporate media, especially when you’ve been living comfortably off them for most of your career. The official reason why they were going to “suspend” him was because of his abusive tweets, but as Carlton tweeted: “We do that in this country occasionally.” I can vouch for that. “Fuck” rolls so regularly off the tongues of Australians, you don’t even notice it after awhile.


I’m happy to say that Mike Carlton got a lot more support for his stance on Israel than abuse and the majority of his Twitter followers praised him for quitting his job.

How to become a journalist? Don’t become a corporate journalist. Become a citizen journalist. That’s the only real kind of journalism there is.

5 thoughts on “How to Become a Journalist (a real journalist, that is)

  1. Right on, Rob!

    (I, too, really miss your imaginary world (the “good old days”) – ink-stained journalists and luxurious train travel, and tools that could be repaired, not replaced…)

    To your point re: skip the Journalism Degree: I agree, on principle – take the nuts-and-bolts classes if you can, but avoid the “how to be a drone or a cog” class tracks (and their teachers!) (also, that plan tends to leave less debt hanging over your career like a piano on a fraying rope…)

    This post ( and the comments (alas, now closed ) admirably address the common conveyor-belt of Degree = debt + “toe the line” + “don’t rock the boat” = Drone.

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