Challenge yourself to be a better journalist in 2011

New Year's fireworks. Central Park, New York City. By Fabiola Carletti

Are you a journalist without any New Year’s resolutions?

Well, if you would like a back-to-basics approach this year, the good folks behind the Canadian Journalism Project (CJP) have come up with a short list of challenges that might interest you.

The list, published on J-Source.ca, is deceptively simple. As they note, it “requires perseverance, integrity and commitment year round.”  Each of the five goals is also a link to a relevant article that may serve as a source of inspiration.

In 2011…

  1. I will admit to my mistakes
  2. I will promote greater public accountability
  3. I will not plagiarize
  4. I will strive for accuracy
  5. I will defend press freedom

My  favourite article is attached to goal #4. It’s called “Teaching accuracy takes more than punishing mistakes.” Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps this sounds a bit confusing: fear is good, but also bad; mistakes are bad, but also instructive. That’s exactly the point. Teaching accuracy is a multi-faceted process. It’s complicated, and in truth it never really ends. You can’t learn accuracy the way you learn to add and subtract. It’s a process and a combination of learned behaviours, not a matter of memorization or motor memory.

And speaking of resolutions, J-Sources has committed to regularly updating their  ethics section this year, which will help guide journalists long after the New Year zeal has worn off.

Meantime, the Toronto Star’s Sarah Millar has posted her own 5-goal list. She has explained each challenge in tight little paragraphs, which I recommend you read in full on the Star’s intern blog. Here are the basic points:

1. You are what you tweet

2. I will spell check before I post

3. I will talk to real people

4. I will find something to do that’s not work

5. I will join the conversation

Maybe I secretly love the number four but Sarah’s fourth point is my favourite on her list. I’ll quote it below, but I should quickly mention that I received similar advice from the Star‘s Roger Gillespie. When I asked him to name an important quality in interns, he said:

“We want journalists who have lives,” and added that he doesn’t like seeing young people camp out at their desks. I agree with him. If all we can do is talk shop, that’s as sad as it is boring.

Sarah’s topical point:

It’s not just journalists bringing their work home with them, people in every profession are finding it hard to leave it behind. A New York Times article from last August said multitasking is causing more journalists to burn out younger than ever before. So in 2011, turn off the BlackBerry and do something outside of the office. It could be joining a sports league, or starting a class in a subject that interests you. Whatever it is, it’s three hours a week that you can make just yours. Three hours where you aren’t on your email and on call. You’ll be a better journalist if you’re refreshed.

So, even though these resolutions may seem very basic, that also means they’re realistic. (Hooray!)

If you’re a  journalist, try them out. If you’re a reader, expect no less of your journalists.

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5 thoughts on “Challenge yourself to be a better journalist in 2011

  1. Fabiola,

    Thanks for quoting my post in your post.

    I have to say No. 4 is really the hardest and something I’ve never been able to accomplish in my professional life. This year, I really am trying to though — I start my running clinic tomorrow. (I figured I’d pick up running to: a) get in shape; and b) because I can’t run while I’m checking my work email/Twitter/Facebook.)

    Here’s hoping others follow my lead!

    All the best!

    • You’re literally running away from your work. Nice!

      My most successful exercise stint was an aerobics class with cheesy music – unpopular pop-like songs, for instance.
      I often felt like I should be wearing pink spandex and zebra-patterned body suits.

      It was great because the instructor was so friendly and I really felt like I was letting him down if I didn’t show up.
      It was also a community center — not some fancy gym where everyone is already gorgeous — and I loved getting the predictable routine a little closer to perfect each time. The instructor even let a petite Indian man (who could never keep up) do some amazing yoga poses for us at the end – as if to say, everyone is special here!

      It was magical.

      Anyway, I got a job that prevented me from going during scheduled hours and I’ve sucked at fitness since.
      My goal: find some other spectacularly cheesy low-barrier aerobics class to master.

      No twitter or facebook when you’re doing magic fingers!

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