Saturday, August 08, 2009

Amateurs are Good

It's funny, but I'm still surprised when dying old media lash out at the young pretenders. In Nicky Getgood's article she highlights that the latest old media on the attack is print journalism, with the target in the sights of some journalists being blogging and in particular the hyperlocal variety. It's clear that newspapers are having trouble in circulation and some professional journalists are possibly worried about their careers but it seems somewhat late to attack bloggers now. Hyperlocal blogging can be an excellent news gathering resource for journalists as well as the rest of us, and some are seeing the possibility of this no matter what one thinks of the role of big corporations in grassroots community projects.

Of course it is easy for the professional journalists to attack the bloggers with statements like:

"There is no way that blogging and so-called "citizen journalism" can replace the work of properly trained reporters who, if they are doing their jobs properly, strive to give a factual and objective overview of the events..."
"The only people who read such illiterate 'local' online rubbish are the halfwits who spend the wee small hours writing such tosh and railing against the unfairness of life, instead of going out and getting one."

But then journalism is one of the least liked and trusted professions along with estate agents and politicians. Like all media, one must approach blogs with the same level of scepticism as newspapers because they all are opinionated (and possibly inaccurate), the only difference being is the blog is generally the opinion of an individual; this is my opinion. As Phil Gyford points out the threat to good journalism is the bad journalism of ill-researched and dangerous science articles, content-free celeb "puff-pieces", & pointless life-style articles, and it is not the blogsphere that is doing the damage.

This got me thinking: what is the difference between amateurs and professionals, and why is the term amateur one of derision and denigration?

A media professional has to make a decision as to whether the work will pay enough for the effort involved, hence it is hard for newspapers to cover hyperlocal topics when the audience will be small. For all professionals the 'bottom line' is a factor that must always be taken into consideration even if the work is pro bono or professional development. Furthermore there is no clear guarantee that a media (or creative) professional will deliver a brilliant top-notch job for the fee. Qualifications and membership of bodies (that run on subscriptions from the members) guarantee, well little and previous performance is no indication of future returns! So a professional can be as bad as an amateur, or even worse.

It is assumed that an amateur is not as good as a professional because of the lack of qualifications and naturally this perception is maintained by professionals to appear exclusive. Amateurism and amateurish are invariably used disparagingly and as an insult. As an aside, I earn my living working within IT which nowadays uses the job titles such as 'software engineer' and 'software architect' to sound more professional.

I'm an amateur photographer and proud of it! I am an amateur in the true sense of the word: I take pictures purely for the love of it. This doesn't mean I'm not as good as a professional, I've just made the decision not to try to make a living from my image making and I'm comfortable with that. Talking with photography students they will often state their ambition is to work for the glossy Sunday supplements, or as a fashion photographer, but it is never to create the best images they possibly can. Not having to earn a living from my photography means I can experiment, play, and strive to create the best work I can without the worry of the client not really liking it, meeting deadlines, and fighting to get paid on time. Being a professional photographer is hard, but it's all the ancillary stuff that drags you down.

The world we live in would not be the same if it wasn't for the single-minded amateur. Charles Darwin was an amateur scientist, Albert Einstein worked in the patent office whilst developing his theory of Special Relativity, whilst Gregor Mendel, the discoverer of the laws of inheritance, was an Augustinian priest. We wouldn't have TV & radio if it wasn't for the early amateur inventors. Today there are many dedicated amateurs who are passionate and dedicatedly creating work that is appreciated by many, be that

We amateurs should reclaim the words amateur & amateurism and their true positive meanings, and not allow it to be used to belittle our efforts because doing whatever we do for the love of it is a noble pursuit. And just sometimes the passion of an amateur can pay-off. Nicky's dedicated work on Digbeth is Good has landed her a plum job helping others to become true amateur hyperlocal bloggers.

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