For many years, I was contributing to leading international shipping and port journals until I quit in 2009 to become a blogger. You can say I am battle-scarred. I saw the culture in the maritime press up-close and witnessed its sad, downward trajectory with the advent of online publishing. I am glad I left before the monster could devour me. The key lessons — rather, the basic principles — which I have learned:
Journalists are important only for as long as they are useful to the maritime Establishment.
Many journalists tend to ignore this basic principle. Getting invited to lunch by some maritime bigwig gives them a sense of importance. They forget to ask: “Would I be invited by this clown if I were a seaman or if he was not expecting something in return?” Ah, but what reporter would not love to eat in a five-star hotel?
No maritime journalist has ever been liked who did not know how to kiss ass.
The second law is as immutable as the Rock of Gibraltar. You cannot thrive in this business if you don’t praise the subject of your story. The maritime press is no country for the maverick and iconoclast. Some maritime publications know the principle only too well. They hand out awards to the very industry players they should be keeping at arm’s length for the sake of objective reporting.
Putting the news out is more important than good writing.
The pressure to be up to speed, to be timely and relevant, is so great that it has resulted in much shallow reporting. Many are into copy-and-paste journalism. and regurgirating press releases has become part of the game.
Online maritime journalism is ruled by Google and SEO.
It is a kind of tyranny that maritime journalists have learned to embrace. There are SEO (search engine optimization) rules to follow, such as what keywords to use, if one’s article is to get a higher ranking in Google searches. This, together with a heavy reliance on press releases, explains why maritime journalism suffers from a frightening uniformity in content and style.
The press in general is no breeding ground for intellectuals.
By its very nature, journalism deals with the mundane and ephemeral. It’s a passing show. Anyone who wants to be a serious writer, who wants to write for posterity, should write books instead.
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