What is Authorship?

“What is authorship?” I’ve been mulling over this question for a while. It’s both a very broad and brilliant question. A good, solid, question. One that, perhaps, more journalists (if not all) should mull over at some point in their career.

In my final year at J-school, one of our assigned text books was The Elements of Journalism, which discussed ethical journalism and touched on the question of journalistic authorship. Right off the bat in the first chapter authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write, “The news media serve as a watchdog, push people beyond complacency, and offer a voice to the forgotten.” This, and quotes similar to, often make me reflect on my own journey as a student of journalism.

When I first applied to Humber for its journalism program, I didn’t really know what I wanted out of it. I’m a naturally creative person; my passion lies in creative fiction writing. Short stories. Novels. Screenplays. Poetry. I didn’t want to write the news. I didn’t even pay attention to current events (I still don’t, really – aside from the Yahoo.ca home page news feed).

In the class that this textbook was assigned, my classmates and I were encouraged to engage in online discussions about various chapters, TED talks, or news articles. Our final class discussion revolved around the influences we as individuals had as introverts, extroverts, and omniverts in the field of journalism. Writing as an introvert, I stated that while introversion can typically lend itself to the benefit of more acute observation skills than more extroverted people, I felt marred by a sense of social anxiety, which shot down any self confidence as a competent journlist. The interview process makes me almost physically ill. I become petrified at the thought of cold calling. However, even though I tend to fumble and apologize (sometimes more than once) over stupid things I ask of or say to interviewees, I’ve been told I have a disarming quality that puts most people at ease.

Maybe, because I am so self depreciating and awkward.

I’m reminded of a videocast hosted by journalist Jon Ronson. In an interview with author Susan Cain in regards to her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, she tells Ronson, “I think for any trait of human nature … [being an introvert] …  it has its pros and it has its cons. For too long we’ve only looked at introversion through its disadvantages, and we’ve only looked at extroversion through its advantages.”

The interview (and subsequent class discussion) has remained with me to this day. I’ve always felt at a disadvantage being an introvert. But according to Cain, many great ideas have come from introverts. Steve Wozniak, whom Cain says is a “self-identified introvert”, created Apple – which has had such a drastic and positive influence on the world of  technology. In conjunction with this example, Cain says earlier in the interview, “Solitude is such a crucial ingredient of creativity, and we’re losing sight of solitude.”

Perhaps then, Cain’s suggestion, linked with her idea that introversion holds just as strong traits as extroversion, circles back to the question of what authorship is to me.

In chapter one of our text book, Kovach and Rosenstiel state, “People are simply more complex than the categories and stereotypes we create for them.” I couldn’t agree with this more. While I’m awkward and suffer from social anxiety issues, as an introvert I’m pretty observant, and I like to think I’m fairly decent at the role of “active listener”. As a journalist, it’s important to me for my article to have a voice of its own, carried by the words of those who I interview: their views, experiences, hopes, fears, and accomplishments related to the story. For me, it’s all based upon a two-way genuine conversation.

In both first and second year, I used to rely far too heavily on pre-written questions, which often led to missed wide openings for additional inquires or interviewees having to once again answer an earlier question, to their chagrin. Often times in my final year, I’ve thought about a general idea of questions I’d like to ask, and head into the interview without any expectation or clear direction. As crazy as a tactic as it sounds, it’s helped encourage a more natural flow in conversation.

On a more personal note, I ultimately wish to get into arts and entertainment magazine writing. It’s a goal of mine to head a resurgence of the old dime pulps of yesteryear in order to provide up-and-coming genre writers a venue for their otherwise lost voices in the oversaturated world of published fiction.

Dave Alexander, current Editor in Chief of Rue Morgue Magazine, says of authorship in the industry, “Arts and entertainment writing isn’t just about arts and entertainment, you should be entertaining yourself. So that goes directly into authorship and having a voice, and Rue Morgue is known for having a voice.” He goes on to say there are other publications that write about similar content, but are afraid to have a strong opinion – afraid to “piss people off”. Alexander continues, “We’re here to represent the readers, not to represent movie companies … that’s why people like us.”

Although freelance journalist Sarah Nicole Prickett is very much an introvert, she has made her career out of “having a voice” via  the Twitterverse. Last June, Prickett sat down to interview Oscar-winning writer/producer Aaron Sorkin regarding his latest television incarnation, The Newsroom. Right off the bat, Prickett and Sorkin got off on the wrong foot due to a simple misunderstanding, which resulted in Sorkin flat out insulting Prickett’s competence as an online writer.

Prickett held a cool resolve and finished the interview, although the confrontation set her nerves totally on edge. She wrote about her experience for The Globe and Mail’s website.

To some degree, I can relate with Prickett’s experience (sans hipster ego). When I read about her interview with Sorkin, the article gave me a kind revelation, that I’m not the only journalist faced with the harrowing issues that more introverted individuals have to struggle with.

So then, what does authorship mean to me as an introvert? To be genuine. To tell a story as honest and heartfelt as I can. To represent my ideologies and to represent those people in my stories to the best of my ability. And I feel that I have at least attempted that as best that I can.

In this new revelation, perhaps then I’m not as horrible as a journalist as I think, for, “In the end, everyone in the journalistic process has a role to play in the journey toward truth.” (p. 109, Kovach & Rosenstiel) …Even if I am too scared to pick up a telephone.


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