About Hacks

One of the real pleasures I had while living at Free Market Towers a couple of years back was going out to the mailbox very early in the morning, retrieving the fresh edition of the Daily Telegraph, then reading the thing cover to cover while drinking my morning coffee, trying to finish it before the Free Markets woke up for breakfast.

If we had a decent daily newspaper Over Here, I’d subscribe to its print version in a heartbeat, but of course we don’t:  they’re all total shit, and of course infested with socialist hacks.

This isn’t, by the way, the modern-day meaning of the word, where “hacking” means breaking into someone else’s computer coding program, and “hacks” mean “shortcuts” or “gimmicks”.

In The Oldie days (explanation to follow), the word “hack” usually meant “journalist” — more specifically, a bad  journalist.  And in perusing the pages of a magazine I’d never heard of before (thankee, BritReader Jeff W), I found a lovely article about journalism, and journalists.

Of course, nowadays journalists are despised, and mostly deservedly so, for being hacks:  opinionated assholes who reveal their ignorance with every sentence they write (e.g. when talking about guns), and moreover, who write badly, unsupervised by editors who used to be a moderating influence, but who are now best described as “last week’s journalists” — i.e. no better than the journalists they’re supposed to be supervising.

But it wasn’t always like that.  Here’s an excerpt from the article I linked above:

It’s easy to maintain a simplistic stance if you never leave your desk. Google will reaffirm what you already know – or think you know. However if you take the time and trouble to go out and meet the people who are living through the things you’re reporting, and ask them what they think, you’ll soon find your opinions are tempered by reality. Real life is complex and contradictory. Successful columnists are often dogmatists, but good reporters are pragmatists. Regular contact with the folk they write about has taught them that life, and news, is rarely black and white.

It’s also easy to forget that journalists once had to follow an apprenticeship path before they could land a job with a prestigious — or at least popular — newspaper or magazine, that path being:  learning how to write proper journalese and prose in a small-town newspaper, and simple things such as interviewing subjects, collecting background material and in short, learning about the topics before committing them to print — all before graduating to a larger, or national publication.

It’s also worth remembering that this path seldom if ever required a university degree which, I think, stopped journalists back then from becoming part of the story:  as perpetual outsiders to the system they were reporting about, their job was to be skeptical about the topic — indeed, learning about the topic meant looking at it from all sides so that they could see through the spin being put on it by the interviewees.

Contrast that with today’s J-school poseurs, who graduate thinking that they’re qualified to write about everything, whereas in fact they’re unqualified to write about anything.  Nowadays, of course, they just parrot the spin because they literally don’t know any better.

Read the entire article:  like all good pieces of writing, it will educate you about the topic.  It will also increase your loathing for today’s so-called journalists, if that’s indeed possible.

And en passant, read a few more articles in The Oldie.  It’ll be worth your time.


  1. …if you take the time and trouble to go out and meet the people who are living through the things you’re reporting,…

    The fact that most of today’s journalists don’t do this is especially reflected in their coverage of the military. If you can’t tell the difference between a tank and an armored personnel carrier, or know the difference between a soldier and a marine, you have no business writing about “defense” issues.

    As a former Intel officer I am especially contemptuous of the press as we are supposed to be in basically the same business: the collection and dissemination of information. Any analysis to be based on the facts and clearly stating what is known, what is estimated, and what is unknown. (Intel often fails to fully live up to this, but we try, at least at the tactical level)

    In the 80’s the only mainstream national publications that came close to that standard were the Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor and US News and World Report. Sadly they have also succumbed to being overwhelmed with J School graduates and Political Fashion.

    I could do a whole rant on journalists supposed “higher calling” and “loyalty to the truth”. During Gulf War I we referred to them as “spies we are not allowed to shoot”.

  2. My favorite talking heads interview other talking heads about the opinions of other talking heads.

    Journalism schools produce journalists unlikely to possess the skills to critique journalism schools.

Comments are closed.