Today’s Thought: Intellectual curiosity

Are most journalists intellectually curious enough?

If they were they wouldn’t be asking for someone to give them training in new skills. Rather they would have already discovered new — in demand — skills, and they wouldn’t be afraid to seek out help to learn new skills on their own.

And isn’t an intellectually curious person willing to learn new things just for the sake of learning or out of sheer curiosity, instead of just want to learn new skills to save his job?

  • A short answer to your question is “Depends”.
    Of course that then there’s a new question “Depends on what?”
    Really on the circumstance and what you mean by intellectual curiosity.

    I think you’ve hit on an instrumental curiosity in your post here. A need to know response to things like new technology and techniques and the circumstances of the workplace might perhaps shape or skew the ways in which journos seek this instrumental information – ie: via the HR department, in-house training, etc.

    The second type of curiosity is more outward looking and relates to the content of the job of journalism.
    Most journalists are by nature (definition?) intellectually curious, but as Evelyn Waugh always intoned “Up to a point Lord Copper”.
    And the point beyond which most journalists are no longer intellectually curious is when it comes to questioning some fundamental ideological assumptions about the world — journalists rarely go beyond what Daniel Hallin calls the limits of controversy.
    For example, journos may argue the merits of a particular policy – wage hikes or wage cuts – but would never question the very basis of wage economies – exploitation of labour by capital.
    That kind of curiosity is too radical for even most extremely liberal reporters.
    So my question is
    Why aren’t journalists more intellectually curious about key social and political issues, why do they accept assumptions that need to be challenged.

  • Pingback: The new journalism syllabus? « Ethical Martini()

  • I think you make an excellent observation!

    How can journalists be such forcefull agents of change in the outside world – from better government to better art to better food – and yet not be challenging agents pushing for change within their own organization.

    My personal pet theory is that the “institutional cynicism” we value in journalists can turn into willful disregard of all new ideas within the company.

    The cynicism that prompts us to question whether the mayor is crooked can quickly slip into a mode of “all new ideas are bad and bound to fail.”

    Then it goes from being a valuable trait in a public watchdog to stubborn ignorance of a blaring reality around you.

    But that’s just my $0.02.

  • Cha Guerilla

    “And isn’t an intellectually curious person willing to learn new things just for the sake of learning or out of sheer curiosity, instead of just want[ing] to learn new skills to save his job?”

    Have you heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? I think it applies to what you’re talking about. I mean, it’d be nice if we were only motivated by pure interest, able to pursue whatever we wanted to learn without looking at the economic issues behind our pursuits. We’d probably have a lot more Classics and philosophy majors hitting the marketplace. And voting. That’d be fine. But at the end of the day, you don’t biologically have to follow your passions. But if you like eating and paying the rent, you do have to keep gaining skills that keep you employed.

    Obviously, people learning new skills just because they find said skills awesome will be better at it. That’s not the issue under debate. You’re saying we should learn new skills because the new skills are fun, challenging, worthwhile. That’s fine – but if you want journalists to have more business and marketing training, learn a wide variety of skillsets, how do you get people to do that without them knowing it’ll (maybe) help them keep a job in journalism? Given the lofty goals of journalism and the bad pay, isn’t trying to keep a job in journalism a pretty not-petty thing? Wanting to keep good ol’ Democracy going?

    Also, if most journalists got in-demand skills, would they really stick around for the sub-par wages most journalistic businesses try to pan off on their employees?

  • pat

    @Cha – You raise good points. News organizations that don’t pay well will have a tough time convincing people to learn new skills and an even tougher time keeping employees once they learn new skills.

    Many journalists won’t stick around as they add a deeper and more marketable skill set. And why should they? Many journalists make embarrassing wages for so-called professionals.

    But not only news organizations pay poorly. Those organizations will keep getting stronger, while the rest keep getting weaker.