Brain Pickings

A Manifesto for the Spirit of Journalism circa 1940


Recentering lessons in idealism for journalism 2.0 from the golden age of journalism 1.0.

As we ponder the future of journalism and grapple with its declining ethical standards, it’s as good a time as any to revisit the history and heart of journalism. This 1940 film from Encyclopedia Britannica Films’ (remember them?) Your Life Work series is as much a fascinating time-capsule of bygone publishing practicalities as it is a timeless, charmingly idealistic manifesto for the deeper ethos of journalism as a calling.

…there’s a real thrill in seeing your own byline over a story when it’s in print, and there’s always the feeling that you’ll try to make the next story just a little better.”

My favorite part is this bit on the qualities and responsibilities of the editorial writer which, despite the era’s near-comic gender bias, remains a powerful reminder of all those things the lack of which accounts for most of today’s Bad Journalism — clarity, curiosity, conviction, and networked knowledge.

The editorial writer must be able to write on many subjects. But instead of merely reporting news, he analyzes it and explains its meaning, often expressing his personal opinions. He must reason accurately and fairly, and write in an interesting manner. To understand and interpret problems of the day, he must read and study continually, in addition to having a great amount of knowledge and experience.”

The film is also available as part of a fantastic though somewhat hard to hunt down DVD compilation, also featuring a fascinating newspaper reporter interview with animation pioneer Max Fleischer.

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