On “superhero” journalism

Journalists nowadays need to be a bit like Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Batman rolled into one, it seems.

No, I don’t mean that it’s somehow up to journalists to don masks, tight-fitting spandex and the latest tools and gadgets to fight criminal masterminds and neurotic ne’er-do-gooders.

But, much like their fictional superhero counterparts, journalists today have special responsibilities to the public they strive to serve – all while working under intense pressure to respond instantaneously and live up to constant scrutiny.

With the advent of the web and social networking, journalists must work on deadlines timed to the minute – not only so that they can meet the brutal demands of press time but also so that they can preview their stories online, update their Twitter accounts and probably work on at least two other stories with similar constraints.

To very roughly paraphrase a professor I recently heard speak, journalists today follow a “basic” 3-2-1 rule. Namely, journalists must create three times the content in half the time it should take to make with only themselves to rely on.

All of this means would-be journalists need to have almost superhuman stamina, persistence and drive to cut it in the industry.

While writing a scholarship essay and working on this blog today, I had to pause and consider that thought. And I came across something rather startling at first but which I think I’ve suspected for several months now. Namely, I’m not really competing with the people I share classes with – by definition, my peers – but rather with the professionals already out in the field with years of on-the-job experience.

Jobs that they’re already struggling to keep. Jobs that keep disappearing.

So what does it say about me that I’m still considering a job in that same field? Am I suffering from some cruel form of self-deluded hubris? And what about the “dark side” of journalism? Should I sell out and go into PR?

These are all questions any journalism major must answer.

And these questions don’t have clear black-and-white answers, just like there’s no Uncle Ben telling you what to do.

But one thing is for sure: I don’t have any superpowers – and neither does anyone else.

Maybe I can’t bound over tall buildings in a single leap. And so what if I certainly can’t sling webs in between stories?

Then there’s The World’s Greatest Detective.

Even with all his fancy gadgets and martial arts know-how, Batman is not all-powerful. He uses his brain and natural investigative senses to do good – which are exactly the sort of skills journalists should work to develop.

So yeah, I’ll admit, my utility belt may not be stacked just yet – especially when compared to all the other Batmen out there.

But it doesn’t have to be at this point. After all, there’s no world to save or evil plot to foil.

Just jobs to find and employers to meet.


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This is the personal page of Chris Shattuck -- an Atlanta-based media professional with a background in business reporting, nonprofits and agency PR.

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