The Burden of Journalism

Théophile Pillault

An Infinite and Unsolvable Debt

We practice journalism as we are in an age of working. However, after more than 15 years of reports and interviews, we are still not able to call it a job, because its cost has been so high in comparison with the rewards. High for our lives, precarious and submitted to media that don’t even deserve our attention. High for the profession itself, which we happen to sometimes soil with doubtful deontological hygiene, or even worse, mimeticism.

Dealing with a less and less united journalism practice and even definition, reporters and information collectors are getting more and more individualistic. Journalism has always been a game for rich people, as many of them know, but it’s getting dangerously worse as the job becomes more precarious, leading to an economic reign of division.

In France, the number of syndicated journalists is totally meaningless as they are thrown into a profession ruled by the publication race contest. For instance, less than a quarter of French registered photojournalists are members of a professional organization.

Journalism doesn’t have the time any more to think itself through: reports follow each other at a rhythm the reader can’t keep up with. And it doesn’t really matter as they are all the same.

It seems that journalistic narration has been reduced to reporting on instabilities such as conflict geographies, financial markets mobility or multinational successfulness. For a few years, the Syrian battlefront seems to have become the only place for photojournalists to do their job. In France, mass-media contribution is limited to vox pops about arriving refugees or Greek debt. When it is not busy exploring gossip magazines, a massive part of specialized media just settles for streaming Facebook or Google citations.

In those conditions, it is hard to draw attention to celebrated Internet volunteer Bassel Khartabil, an open web developer who has been wrongfully detained in Syria since 15 March 2012. This prisoner stands at complicated crossroads between media and international stakes, and talking about his disappearance implies levels of analysis that the French media, it seems – if only they were the only ones -- cannot handle. This fight for information, amongst other fights, struggles to make its way into newsrooms which look more and more like dominant system backrooms, left alone by any form of resistance.

As we face those ideological barriers, how can we hope to get more people outside those little circles already convinced to read dissident analyses?

Today, we still haven’t found a satisfying setup to provide for the production and diffusion of chemically pure information, purified from political, institutional or personal stakes.

The same questions apply to online journalism. Neo-data journalists? Webdoc producers? Datavisualizers? They are under the same pressures as their paper ancestors. The Internet can’t produce another type of mass information free from the rentability logics and industrial concentration that strikes the sector.

Sharing our analysis, dissidence or images in free information frameworks provides last victories for the small media people. But for how long? After 15 years of articles written on the edge, of unpaid reports, of lots of often spoiled written material, isn’t it time to listen to reason and look for evidence? What would they say?

Maybe that this job doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist anymore.

However, very few societies can pretend to emancipate themselves without a free information system. So, we have to stand at the frontlines.

Because there is no cost for journalism or ideas, Bassel Khartabil is detained today, and other women and men will be. There is no cost of freedom. Just an infinite and unsolvable debt that nothing can resolve.

Let’s honor this debt, until our specificities eventually start to resonate, from newsrooms to media schools and beyond that, in all societies willing to free themselves.