The sum-up by Kevin Rafter, in yesterday's Irish Times, of the results of a recent survey of Irish journalists, was housed under "Opinion". Good thing, given the headline: "Journalists are getting younger but loss of experience brings problems".
Twice I read this piece without realizing its denomination. It might had been better for Rafter's opinion not to be couched in the findings, or the findings couched in Rafter's opinion. But it can be difficult to get survey findings published in national newspapers, and here we are.
"First," Rafter writes, "journalists are relatively young. The overwhelming majority (68 per cent) are in the 25-44 age category. The comparable figure in 1997 was 55 per cent."
There "must", the academic says, borrowing this line directly from his report on the findings, "be concern about the ability of younger journalists to offer serious editorial context when reporting and contextualising major news stories".
In his charge that to be a younger journalist is to be relatively incapable, Rafter identifies only "energy brought to story generation" as a redeeming trait.
Humorously, on Twitter, a retired journalist expressed some dismay at the charitable concession. This journalist generated a story or two in his time, I am sure. And this journalist knows better, I am sure. But a negative premise is so seductive to harried alarm and pessimism! Remember: if it bleeds, it leads!
"Our survey findings should be a 'wake-up call' for those directly involved in journalism and for wider Irish society," Rafter writes. "The young age profile matched with decreasing career opportunities cannot but have an impact on how journalists report the news."
How? How, how, how? This is some top-of-head stuff.
Wisdom and experience are important, and "context" indeed valuable, normally hard-won. But having those things does not debar the older journalist from bad shortcuts, damaging reliance on hackneyed understandings and positions, and creative abuse of seniority. Even treasured context has its limits.
Leading international newspapers transfer experienced journalists from beats like City Hall to advertising, from construction to fashion, and from Cairo to Washington, for this reason.
In a field found increasingly undesirable by people for reasons Rafter cites, and others, should we not be welcoming and encouraging interested newcomers?
Would a rapidly aging, top-heavy industry not "bring problems" enormously more severe, more difficult to resolve? Don't younger journalists have editors? Younger journalists are not, or ought not be, acting alone.**
Rafter, and some of Twitter, and the subeditor who wrote the headline, might have chilled out about the allegedly dismal vista of a growing number of younger journalists with insufficient ability (some of these novices aged just 44!), and occupied themselves instead with larger, more troubling and more legitimate concerns.
The abject lack of racial and ethnic diversity in Irish media. The biting dearth of women. The laughable proportion of Irish journalists who have degrees in journalism or communications.
Or, with the buried lede! That SIX (6) PER CENT of journalist respondents somehow felt okay declaring, albeit on the condition of anonymity, that they did not deem alteration or fabrication of quotes unacceptable.
Rafter and his co-author, Stephen Dunne, cast this as a 94 per cent success rate, calling it "a strong commitment to ethical codes".
The full report is here.
*Ciarán D'Arcy's remarks on the wrongful and inhibiting detention of younger journalists in the office, and on paltry-to-absent pay for this cohort, are real, real, real, and well-made.
**This post was not edited, nor did I receive any semblance of guidance on it. Also, sure, some people don't have editors! Cool! Got it!
PS. What ethical codes?