“How many journalists around the world hear every day that their topic is "too difficult," that it "won't sell" a program, broadcast or newspaper? The media must have an audience willing to support them, one that knows that every penny spent on a free media is an investigation of their own freedom, which is never given once and for all”, says Wojciech Szeląg, one of the most prominent economic journalists, for years associated with the Polsat Group now writing for Interia.pl. We invite you to another conversation in the meet the media series.
What skills do you consider key for a journalist and how do you work to develop them?
The key skills in the work of any journalist are humility, curiosity and determination. Humility, because working on any material begins with admitting to oneself: "I don't know" or "I don't understand." Curiosity, because the first answer to the question "why?" (basic in our profession) does not have to be definitive and should be treated with distrust as a rule. Linked to this is the determination to seek answers against one's own laziness or routine, which tempt the blissful vision of a quick dot ("here you go, there was supposed to be material and there is, in addition, on time"), when every material should be treated as the most important, as if there were none before.
I try not to put limits on my thinking, not to treat any associations as absurd. After all, the most important texts or materials are those when we have managed to look at an issue in a way that is different from everyone before us.
What is the most important task of a journalist these days, and whether/how has this "function" changed in recent years?
Everything is changing, and therefore so is journalism. In the past, our role was mainly to provide information, but today, when (almost) all of us have the Internet in our cell phones, and a recording made with a phone can instantly promise the whole world, the task of a journalist is increasingly becoming one of organizing information, indicating which and why it is most important, or has or will have the greatest impact on reality, on our fate. And the most important thing – verification of information. The Internet can't cope with this at all, so the importance of the work of truly professional journalists will grow. However, we must have partners in the audience who need verified and organized information, who care that we do it for them.
What do you think the ideal relationship between PR and journalism should look like?
It should be based on mutual understanding of the role of each party and respect for their boundaries. Thanks to PR people, I don't have to keep track of what's important in the industry on a daily basis myself. I don't have the time or strength for that because I will learn about what's really important from them. However, a good PR specialist understands the principles of journalism, so he doesn't "sulk" when I check the information he provides, because he knows and understands that I have to do it, and he can give the information completely into my hands, entrust it to me and trust that I will use it to the best of my ability, he won't try to make me write those "just a few words" more, beyond the limits of objective reporting. Such situations happen, a journalist can defend against it, but unnecessary distaste remains, at least for a while.
What major challenges do you see facing the journalism/information industry?
Nihil novi, the challenges don't change – it's the need for resilience to constant political pressure (especially in Poland) and growing economic pressure. Politicians never and nowhere love journalists, and words of appreciation for the role of the media tend to fall silent in the mouth of an MP or minister when the media deals with him or herself. These pressures are as old as politics and journalism, probably nothing will change here in the future either. The bigger challenge seems to be economic pressure and cutting off the media from sources of funding – instead of censoring them, they try to starve them so that they can then say that they "failed to meet market realities." This meets the biggest problem – self-censorship and shallowing of the media, not at all for political reasons, but precisely for economic ones. The more difficult, more complicated a topic is, the naturally narrower will be its audience, people who are ready to spend time to carefully read the findings of journalists. And, after all, the media must earn money for themselves! How many journalists around the world hear every day that their topic is "too difficult," that it "won't sell" a program, broadcast or newspaper? The media must have an audience willing to support them, one that knows that every penny spent on a free media is an investigation of their own freedom, which is never given once and for all.
How do you deal with the stress, criticism and possible pressures that come with working in the media?
How? I treat them as the norm! Years of working in the media create a kind of protective layer, or more precisely, they teach you how to... pull the stress to your own side. I need to get information instantly or write a text in 5 minutes? Once I would probably panic, I treat stress as a shot of adrenaline that helps me achieve my goal. One thing I know for sure – in such moments, I should not be expected to give lessons in beautiful and subtle Polish! Criticism? It hasn't hurt anyone yet, and it's not coquetry. Even the best text or material can always be... even better. In a well-organized editorial office, every text, even by the most experienced journalist, is also read by others. It's a collective work, it can't be otherwise. As for the pressures – maybe I'm just lucky? However, I know that they exist, so those who have resisted them should talk about them. I'm not going to create an image of "my own steadfastness" when I haven't faced such an ordeal myself.
Do you manage to maintain a healthy work-life balance?
The question is what is a "healthy balance" in this profession? I know journalists who received laurels on stage, but no one in the applauding hall even imagined how high a personal price they paid for their success and recognition. "Do you succeed..." is a question I ask myself every day, and I don't always answer it the same way.
How will AI affect the work of journalists 1 year from now, what will change?
I don't know. Maybe nothing? Maybe everything? I hear about AI most often as a threat, and this, paradoxically, reassures me. Every major change was presented in its time as the end of the galaxy, and it always turned out afterwards that it too could be tamed. There will be new problems with the verification of information (photos!) and with the responsibility of the author (the text was written more by me or my colleague Artificial?), but I think there will be an answer to every challenge. I'd love to hear more specifics about the simplifications AI will bring – since there will be benefits, I have no doubt we'll learn to take advantage of them.
Complete the sentence: If I'm not working, then....
Version 1: I also work. No, I'm not a pathological worker, on the contrary, I just try to view reality also as a source of potential topics. We write for people, and they are most interested in the topics they face every day, and yet I face exactly the same ones!
Version 2: Someone recently asked me when I actually rest, since, in his perception, I constantly work. I think that if someone is "turned on" by what they do, they don't need to rest from it. I know that such job satisfaction, despite all its more difficult sides, is nevertheless a gift from fate, which is enjoyed by a not so large group of people. So I feel lucky, especially since I don't know if I deserved it in any way.
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