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April 9, 2008 / Amy Bradney-George

…or was it the other way around?

I’ve often stopped to think about the way I work – my reactions, thoughts, opinions. I suppose it’s part of my analytical side (there I go again), but it’s interesting to see when that comes into play and what has lead to something else.

Take journalism for example. I’ve always liked to write, although it used to be more imaginative, the creative side of journalism (no, I don’t mean ethically creative) appealed to me for a long time. The catalyst which  inspired my study path was seeing such complete cynicism and distrust for journalists among the community, despite most news being ethical. Yes, you get your bad apples, but that’s to be expected in any profession and journalism’s not an exception.

The practise of journalism can really change the way people perceive things. It’s no coincidence so many journalists say once you’re a journalist you’re it for life: always thinking “there’s a story in that” and thinking critically about everything, questioning more, asking more questions of the people around you. Hey, maybe even enjoying speaking to door-knockers and telemarketers every once in a while to see how they may react to your (hopefully) well-informed refusals to buy whatever deal they’ve come up with (I know I do).

This type of thinking can inform opinions on anything else in life.

A friend recently mentioned a biopic they planned on watching which I have reservations about. The circumstances surrounding the filming and the person who was the subject of the film did not, to me, speak well of the final product. As well I’ve heard from film critics that it isn’t that great anyway. When I told my friend I wouldn’t ever want to watch the movie, she argued it wasn’t so bad once you got past the factual circumstances. I don’t have a problem with producers and writers bending the facts in biopics for artistic purposes – creativity is one of the things which makes The Life and Death of Peter Sellers one of my favourite movies – but there are limits to what I agree with. Especially if the facts are already “stranger than fiction” (to use an apt cliché).

It got me thinking about how my experiences with drama (acting, film, dramaturgy etc) and my experiences with journalism have shaped the way I perceive things like biopics. I understand the need to generate money in a creative industry, I understand the need for interpretation within any film production, I even understand the stance a producer may take with someone personally invested in a production, but what I don’t understand is how a compromise can be considered ok if it’s ethically unsound.

I assume it comes down to money. Money makes the world go round, after all, so why shouldn’t it make industries go round as well. In fact, if you look at something like the Working Dog Production’s television show Frontline – a satire about a fictional current affairs program – it’s obvious that ethics are easily manipulated when there’s money (or ratings that will lead to money) involved.

Journalism, with the notoriety of cheque-books, word-twisting and sensationalist licensing no matter how rare is seen as a classic case of ethics not followed. Yes, I believe most journalists in Australia are ethical and follow the MEAA code of ethics, but the few occasions when money has proven more tempting have been highlighted to the public enough that there’s now a strong distrust in many circles.

If I wasn’t a critical-thinker before I took an interest in journalism, I probably wouldn’t have wondered why there was such disparity between the perception of journalists and the actual role of journalists as voices for the public, reporting in the public interest. If I didn’t think outside the square I might not have even noticed. My assumption that journalism shapes my views isn’t quite right because I already thought this way before I took up the practise. But my awareness of these skills might not be quite so sharp had I not studied journalism and drama (which involves a lot of self-analysis).

So what informs what?

In the end it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is thinking about how you form opinions can sharpen your perceptions and impressions of people. The skills I’m talking about are important in journalism and drama because they inform the practises. I think they’re important for everyone because they allow us independence of thought, regardless of whatever bias the information we get may have attached to it.

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