Maybe this is the difference between US and UK journalists

I’ve always wondered about the difference between US and UK journalists. I’ve always noticed a difference, but never quite figured out what it was or why. This CNN editorial is good insight.

There’s a certain irreverence and snarkiness in the UK press that you don’t see often in the States. The linked is an opinion piece and what she’s saying is theory rather than provable fact, but my experience matches hers.I’ve published in both countries, though my UK journalism was from afar, near the confluence of the mighty Missouri and Mississippi rivers. I’ve only worked with two British editors, as opposed to maybe a dozen US editors. Given a choice, I’d rather work with the Brits again. There was certainly a cultural divide and a tremendous language divide–I think I could switch to writing in Spanish nearly as easily as I could switch to proper UK English–but the Brits were far more carefree than any US editors I’ve ever written for.

US journalism is like religion. I say that as someone who attended conservative, traditional Lutheran churches for about a decade. I think it’s a pretty fair comparison. There’s a lot of tradition, and a lot of self-imposed rules. There’s even a bible: The AP Stylebook and Libel Manual. I’ve read it. Cover to cover. I’ve been tested on it too. The better you know that book, the easier your life will be.

And perfection isn’t optional. It’s expected.

And now that I think about it, I noticed a difference with the British exchange students. They were a whole lot better at lightening up. Writing was a job. Write words, entertain, inform, go home, stop off for a beer on the way.

US journalists think–and are taught–that the press is the fourth branch of government and that bears great responsibility. That’s what makes it more like religion than a job. And I think that’s why it attracts the kinds of political beliefs it does. There are a few journalists who are moderates, but even the moderates are outspoken about it. If you’re lukewarm, you’re not going to last.

I still have something. I’m just not sure it’s the religion. And I frequently get asked why I make a living designing networks and explaining security policy rather than spinning words for a newspaper or, better yet, magazines.

At one point I realized my writing wasn’t going to fix everything, and I lost my idealism. In the meantime, I’d been paying my way through journalism school fixing computers. One day I walked into the network administrator’s office to ask him a question, and I never asked it. His staff offered me a full-time job with benefits. About two weeks later, I stopped being a journalist who fixed computers and became a network administrator who writes.

If my ancestors had stayed in Scotland, maybe I wouldn’t have made that switch. I find life easier if I only have one religion to follow.

One thought on “Maybe this is the difference between US and UK journalists

  • July 15, 2011 at 9:00 am
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    The one and only thing that makes US journalists look ethical are the UK journalists, who would sell their mothers to get a scoop on some dirt. Not news, mind you, just dirt.

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