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Interview

Bruce Grundy on So You Want to be a Journalist?. – Page 2

Bruce Grundy talks about the Cameron effect in journalism, and his text book So You Want to be a Journalist?.

READERSVOICE.COM: What is the main thing you hope to instill in readers of your book, as far as reporting goes?

BRUCE GRUNDY: The book is designed to give people the basic skills to be a journalist. So, why be a journalist? There are two overarching messages I try to get across to students. The first, journalism done well, is absolutely vital for a society, for a community.

On this point, wherever you might look, the record is quite clear. The structures we put in place to govern us, and all too may of the people to whom we entrust the task, invariably let us down somewhere … either through laziness, incompetence, greed, thirst for power, or straight out corruption. Without journalism, they would flourish. Journalism may not prevent all of the above, but it catches quite a few.

The second point may be difficult, depending on who is running the newsroom. But the message is, don’t give up. Remember the Cameron Effect (after the famous British broadcaster James Cameron). One of Australia’s best and most respected journalists Evan Whitton puts it this way: James Cameron, an English reporter, noted that getting a result is like making an atom bomb: the public is bombarded with facts until, mysteriously, critical mass is reached; one more big fact and action has to be taken.

This is called the Cameron Effect; it means the Press just has to keep chipping away. Unfortunately too much journalism is hitched to the four-day factor. If you haven’t nailed it in four days, forget it.

I prefer the Cameron Effect approach to journalism. Just keep heaping one fact on top of another. And that introduces one of the great things about newspapers as distinct from the other media. The ink never washes off the page. So, keep chipping away.

RV: It’s a very comprehensive book. How long did it take to write and can you give a bit of a description of how you went about planning and putting the book together?

BG: I was never happy with the existing textbooks we had for journalism students. They either simply talked about news and news values and who did what in the newsroom and the like or if they tried to explain how to do the job, they were impossible to read. I believed there should be a book that clearly set out for beginners how to do it and at the same time was well illustrated with plenty of good and bad examples, well highlighted so they stood out, with plenty of headings so the reader would know precisely where they were and what was being discussed. Cambridge University Press did a great job in realising those objectives.

I had a message last week from a student who had decided to change courses but he said that So you want to be a journalist? was by far the most interesting and well written text book I will probably ever come across! I took that as a considerable compliment.

Another said It’s great. It’s just like you are talking to us. And that is exactly what I intended. How long did it take to write? The real answer is 45 years, for that is how long I have been in journalism.

As I say in the book, back then when I started there were no textbooks and no training. You learned by doing it, getting it right and getting it wrong and knowing the difference, and by listening and watching and reading other people’s work. Actually writing the manuscript and producing the examples took six months … but I knew what I wanted to say. I just put down, bit by bit, all the things I thought a student needed to know. Over 28 years I have marked tens of thousands of pieces of work. I know where students go wrong. So I set out to deal with that, and hopefully to encourage them. I have just heard the book is to be translated in Portuguese, so perhaps my messages will spread far beyond Australia. That would be good.

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