How to be friends with a journalist

Congratulations. You're friends with a person whose occupation was this year ranked number 42 in a list of the 50 most trusted professions in Australia, pipping the likes of sex workers and politicians. Being friends with a journalist, however, is something that should probably come with an instruction manual. If it existed, that manual might include the following.

1. We know stuff. Probably about you.

There are more than a few passing similarities between stalkers and journalists. If we're not friends on Facebook, chances are I've already found all of your social media profiles, plus some old ones you'd forgotten about. Putting an alias on them just makes it more of a challenge. If we have mutual friends I will probably have information-mined them too, on or offline. The reason why we're so good at finding stuff out is because it's basically our job. Unfortunately, tracking people down for work purposes translates into an awkward and misunderstood talent for finding out stuff about our friends too. Consider it flattering that I'm taking an active interest in you.

2. We have short attention spa-

Sorry, an ambulance went past as I was typing. Spans. Short attention spans. While I'm on it, if you hear any kind of emergency services siren in the background, it's best to press pause on our interaction because I'm going to be darting my eyes around the street like a dog in front of a postman. I'm working out where the vehicle is going, what it's doing, and then probably checking Twitter to work out what I'm missing. It's not that you're not interesting, it's just that I have to know everything. All. The. Time.

3. We will accidentally interview you.

Ever been in conversation with me and realised you're doing a whole lot of the talking after being prompted by a series of questions? Yeah, you're being interviewed. Sorry about that. It's all off the record though. Can you say that last bit again, but clearer?

4. We are addicts.

If I'm driving and it's the top of the hour, there needs to be five minutes of quiet time while I listen to the radio bulletin. At 6pm the same principle applies with the TV. No talking please until I've got my hit.

5. Our sense of humour is offensive.

When there's a barrage of spin, politics and tragedy coming your way on a daily basis, you tend to get desensitised to it. If you hear me talking about something in a way you deem particularly blunt or void of emotion, it's not because I'm a heartless bastard, really. Speaking like this in the workplace saves time and acts as a coping mechanism. In a major design flaw of the journalist brain, there is generally no off button.

6. You might become a source.

If I'm aware that you work for a company, have a hobby or know someone that happens to one day be thrust into the media spotlight, expect a phone call. I'm probably not calling to catch up. You just became a source. It might get awkward. Sorry about that.

7. If you're in PR:

We might not be able to be friends. But yes we did get your email.

8. Best keep the plans fluid.

If we have plans after my work day, it's very much a gamble that they will actually happen on time. The news cycle is relentless. If an MP gets caught in a scandal or there's some kind of major accident, I'm drawn to it like a moth to a flame. If this happens on my day off, there's a good chance I'll be checking my phone every few minutes to follow the developments. Yes, I realise how unreasonable this is.

9. We'll correct your spelling and grammar.

If we text each other regularly, keep in mind that a spelling or grammar mistake is basically like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I might correct you. It's going to sound patronising and there's nothing I can do about it. Also don't be alarmed if I let out a giant groan when I'm listening to radio or watching the TV. While it might sound like someone has just waved rancid meat under my nose, it's probably just because someone has allowed lazy writing to go to air.

10. Beware the pack of journalists.

If you ever get stuck in the middle of a planned or chance gathering of journalists, prepare to feel left out. It's going to inevitably deteriorate into a work conversation. We're opinionated. We interrupt. We talk over one another. It's what we have to do at press conferences when the order of speakers isn't decided by logic or manners, but who has the loudest voice and keeps yelling their question longer than anyone else. There will also be in jokes. You probably won't get a word in. 

2 Responses so far.

  1. MarsFKA says:

    "Off the record". There are two professions where there is no such thing as "off the record": cops and reporters.
    You go "off the record" with either at your peril.

  2. John says:

    I can't speak for other journalists. But if I'm going to use something you told me I'll check with you if that's OK. So far I've respected it when it wasn't, but depending on the scale of the public interest can't promise I would. It would have to be worth ending the friendship for.

Leave a Reply