16. Non-specialized journalist and experts

The nature of journalism requires journalists to be generalists. After all, the news covers every imaginable subject and journalists must do the same. But moving from topic to topic, they run the risk of giving inaccuracies. Indeed, one criticism often levelled at journalists is that they talk for the sake of talking. But being a generalist does not mean being ignorant or shallow. The best experts are nothing more than generalists with an extremely conscientious work ethic.


By definition, journalism covers every conceivable story. Journalists do not choose what they write about; the news chooses for them. Their job, therefore, requires them to wear many, if not all the hats. Wherever they are, they must demonstrate their skills in equal measure, whether in tiny offices or huge spaces. A good journalist, just like a good GP, has to treat small issues just as attentively as big ones. Whether you are a local reporter or a major correspondent, journalism demands modesty and availability.

It’s a question of state of mind:

* Covering the most banal story as it if were breaking news: with the same rigour.

* Covering an ordinary story as one of great importance: with the same accuracy.

Preparing for a vox pop in the same way as an big interview : with an “interview guide”.

* Approaching every report as if it were a beautiful story to be told.

* Seeing the opportunity for a beautiful portrait in every single person you meet.

* Seeing the opportunity for a unique story in the most trivial anecdote.

* Whenever anything even slightly out of the ordinaryoccurs, asking yourself: could there be something to investigate here?

Prioritising and organising local news as meticulously as national news: by taking ownership when covering stories. What’s happening in my stairwell is more important than what’s happening in the neighbourhood. What’s happening in my neighbourhood is more important than what’s happening in the district. What’s happening in my district is more important than what’s happening in the city. What’s happening in my city is more important than what’s happening in the county. What’s happening in my county is more important than what’s happening in the region, etc.


* If the news is slow, be reactive! I generate interaction by contacting readers; their letters and opinions are a goldmine when I don’t have a story to cover. I just need to think ahead about a likely news item to build a news file using contributions from readers interested in the subject.

* If the news is a bit run of the mill, be creative! I find unexpected angles for covering familiar topics. I just need to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary and choose an unusual genre to use to cover an everyday story.

* If the news is boring, I get to work! I unearth strong witness accounts to bring colour to hackneyed stories. I just need to add new potential sources to my address book every day so that I can cover any story at the drop of a hat, but always with professionalism.

* If the news is uninspiring, I work on my style! I write an attractive brief, made up of one carefully crafted sentence, based on some trivial agency wire. I could even create a new daily column filled with short cheerful stories…


You cannot specialise without putting in the work. There are some subjects that you cannot cover properly if you do not have the necessary knowledge to delve deeper into them. You cannot explain a police investigation with the required clarity if you do not understand the legal proceedings. You cannot correctly analyse the financial situation of a company if you do not understand the difference between turnover and an operating account. You cannot intelligently criticise a work of art if you have no artistic standard.

It’s a question of personal investment.

The best newspapers are those that have journalists who are figures of authority due to the relevance of their articles across all subjects: from the most complex (education, justice, police, science, health, culture, religion, military affairs , etc.) to the everyday (domestic politics, foreign politics, economy, social affairs, sport, etc.).

Any general-interest journalists can become an expert in any area if they want it and make the effort to do the additional work that this requires. It’s not a question of going back to school, you simply need to take the time to learn.

* Set yourself the goal of becoming the best in your chosen area or the area dictated by your work setup.

* Commit yourself to some study time, seeking advice from senior journalists.

Read everything that is said and written on the subject, in particular, anything published by other newspapers.

* Learn, as you did at school, using all the key tools so you can master your subject: laws, official regulations, professional codes, etc.

* Develop a network of personal sources in the area in question who can verify your understanding if you have any doubts.

* Be physically present, as often as possible in the places (conferences, assemblies, meetings, etc.) where the professional experts meet to discuss matters, even if this is sometimes a waste of time.

* Avoid expert jargon when writing to ensure you are understood by the general public but be exact enough that experts value your work.

The most efficient editorial teams are those that organise collaboration between general-interest and specialist journalists and make it the norm.