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Friday, February 01, 2008

You don't know the power of...

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: The dark side.

Let's get one thing out of the way right now: I am not a journalist.

Sorry to disappoint you.

Like most of my friends, I am a former reporter, although I was the first of our group to leave. I still work as a writer and editor, but I am not nearly as impressive or as subversive as I was a few years ago when I worked for the MotherCorp. I have been co-opted by the conformists and everything I do is suspect. I am The Man.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. I am on the dark side. This blog could contain subliminal messages urging you to...uh...I have no idea. But it's possible! As a non-journalist, I am definitely pushing some sort of agenda. You can't trust me.

Isn't that annoying? Yeah, I agree. I don't like it, either.

Journalists are trained to think of themselves as the only people who can be trusted to know what's in the public interest. The more annoying ones refuse to accept that they could ever be wrong or that anyone else could ever be more trustworthy than they are. These are the people who use the phrase "the dark side".

Technically, the dark side is PR. Journalists don't like shades of gray, so they don't understand that there's a difference between shilling for a company and providing information to the public. (Ha! See, I can make blanket statements, too! Isn't it annoying?)

Okay, I'm being unnecessarily harsh. What I'm trying to say is that some reporters are jerks with over-inflated egos. However, most of them are decent people who don't like the jerks any more than I do. These guys have made an impressive effort to take back the "dark side" phrase. I wish I could say they've been successful. They really do mean well. They always say it in a friendly way, intending to tease someone who is almost always a former colleague.

Journalists: I'm going to do you a world of good by telling you that it never works. Please stop saying it. I know what you're trying to do, but it rings hollow every time.

I felt that I had to post on another blog today after someone took the author to task for using the phrase. She meant well. She was paying tribute to a co-worker who is leaving journalism, and she tried to tease her gently. A reader got very offended. More offended than I thought was appropriate, given the circumstances.

I didn't take the space there, so I'll do it here on my own blog to explain why people hate this. I personally don't get upset, but I think the people who use the phrase honestly don't understand why it bothers their friends.

No matter how friendly you are or how teasing your tone is, the clear message is that you are better than the other person. You are purer, more trustworthy. Your friend is a sellout who would say anything for a buck.

Now, remember that you're saying this to a person who comes from the same background you do. That's why you're teasing her, right? She wouldn't get the joke if she wasn't a former reporter. She has already been through an agonizing decision to leave your pure industry and go into a sullied, less honourable industry. You think you're being funny, but it's offensive. Your friend is already worried that you think less of her for changing jobs, and now you're twisting the knife.

When you use the phrase, you channel that self-righteous attitude I was describing earlier. You hate those guys just as much as I do, but you become one of them when you tell your friends they're on the dark side. Please stop.

UPDATED: The author of the post I mentioned above has responded. Kate Nova is an awesome writer who lives in Iqaluit. I read her blog every day, and so should you. I didn't link to her yesterday because this post is about the phrase in general, not the way she used it a few days ago, and definitely not about her personally. I have no doubt that she did not know that people are offended. In fact, all of the decent people who say this have no idea why their friends don't like it. I am certainly not saying that I think you guys are snobs. In fact, I'm saying the opposite.


scribe said...

I completely understand what you mean. I work primarily now in p.r. but still write business articles for a major daily. I used to feel schizophrenic. But the truth is that most journalists are p.r. people too--they are just more subtle in how they present their point of view (witness the not-so subtle coronation of Barak Obama). When someone tells me I've gone to the dark side, I just smile and say it's where I've always been.

Karen said...

I think most professions are like this. After I left the media game, I became a lawyer. At first, I was in private practice. People there think pretty highly of themselves, kind of like those high-faluting reporters you were talking about. Which is funny, since most of their clients are private interests of one sort or another, and they charge a lot of money to represent them.

When I took a government job, I actually got more "dark side" comments from my peers than when I left reporting. Considering my job mostly involves upholding public interests, and I get paid the same no matter what the agenda is, I think that's pretty ironic. Most people have stopped bugging me now, but it has been a couple of years since I made the switch. But there are still a couple of folks who can't resist turning that knife every chance they get, which really makes me wonder why they feel so threatened. But that's their issue, not mine.

Jackie S said...

"As a non-journalist, I am definitely pushing some sort of agenda. You can't trust me."

AND as a journalist, I'm going to tell everyone everything you say. No matter who you are, where we are or what it is :P

I originally, in the final year of j-school, had no faith that I would be "good enough" to be a "real" journalist. I wasn't cut-throat enough. I thought that my talents would be better used elsewheres: PR.

I have to tell you, when I announced that to the extended family, there was no end to the "good-natured" barbs.

Now that I'm a "real journalist" those barbs come from people who don't even know me.

Makes me wonder which is worse.

Megan said...

Jackie: I agree with you. I used to hate that. It was horrible, but what made it worse was that I knew that in some cases, it was well deserved. Once bitten, twice shy. I had to establish trust with everyone one step at a time, and with some people, it was slow going. With others, it never came.

I still don't understand why anyone would "burn" a regular Joe who's not doing anything to hurt anyone. That's pretty low, if you ask me.

Kate Nova said...

Thanks for the kind words :)