Journalists are still judged by the lowest prevailing standards

Cricketers – from the Indian subcontinent to England, Australasia to Cape Town – recognise 50 not out as a decent enough tally, nothing yet to write home about. Half a century at the crease of journalism makes it a familiar feeling. 

WF Deedes – formally Lord Deedes, but Bill to those who knew him – not only fought in the Second World War, served the British cabinet and edited a national newspaper, but had one last, powerful piece on Darfur published a fortnight before his death at 94 in 2007. Since he began journalistic work in his teens, this was a supremely more impressive innings.

Journalism is by no means the only pursuit that can be said – again, mostly by older practitioners – to have dumbed down. This, in itself, is a phrase few would have used when starting out, though its usage dates from 1933.

My earliest tools were a notebook and pen. Stories were written, clunky-fingered, on old typewriters to be sent in parcels by train to the head office or dictated laboriously over the phone, straight from notes if time was short, to impatient copytakers.

Pagers, mobile phones, laptops and the rest were unthinkable gadgets far into the future.

Important developments in trials were reported when there was a chance to leave court and find a telephone, not tweeted constantly from the pressbox.

Much, however, remains essentially the same. Journalists are still figures commanding little respect from others in society.

The reality, now as then, is that the worst of their efforts is shallow or tawdry, whereas the best shines a necessary light on dark corners. But in common with estate agents and politicians, though unlike doctors and police officers, journalists tend to be judged by the lowest prevailing standards.

Today’s journalists are better educated than my generation. One friend and contemporary remembers being told by his first editor: “There's an old saying that the better an education a man has, the worse a journalist he will make. If that holds true, you should do rather well."



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