What I love about journalists

I am often to be heard griping and complaining about fellow journalists. Not to their faces, of course. In private or to friends or loved ones or once, in a fit of exasperation, on a blog I used to write.

Of course, all my gripes about fellow journalists, are also gripes about myself, so in this way I feel rather justified in making them – for, of course, I am one of those arrogant self-important writers who actually think they have a god-given write to hassle and harangue people, and should be given access to absolutely anywhere they damn well please. Because they are serving the common good, you know? Oh yes – and they also know far better than anyone else what is what with the world, and such knowledge increases exponentially with every cognac quaffed and cigar smoked.

But journalists have a lot of endearing qualities, too – and, indeed, many of the reasons that I find my kindred spirits so frustrating at times are also, perversely, why I like them so much.

This was very much driven home to me the other night, when I visited, for the first time, the Acropole Hotel to meet an editor I am hoping to do some work for. For those of you that do not know this particular establishment in Khartoum, it is not only the oldest hotel in the city (all the brochures say so – must be true) but also the most popular place for visiting journalists to stay.

As I walked up the stairs, past the local Sudanese selling tourist knick-knacks on a rug, I thought immediately of that hotel in Hotel Rwanda. Or perhaps the one in the Killing Fields.

Every major city in the world must surely have one of these places: a familiar and friendly, not-too-posh, hotel that simply oozes journalismness. I passed a chap coming down the stairs at a fair pace, speaking in a loud British accent with an Oxford twang, and I thought to myself immediately: journalist. Upstairs, I saw a chap with a bushy black beard fervently tapping away at a keyboard and I thought: journalist. Someone very tall strode past, covering the entire reception area in about two and a half strides, and I thought: journalist.

I sat down in the reception area and grabbed a copy of the Economist. But instead of reading it, I was wondering what exactly distinguishes a journalist from everyone else. Why are journalists so journalist-like? For, even if I hadn’t known anything about the Accropole, I would have immediately known I was surrounded by journalists.

The truth is, I can’t really say for certain, but it is something wonderful. Some greater calling, perhaps, that journalists believe they have. Or the deep, deep interest that all good journalists should have in everything, however big or small, that gives them that particular striding gait, that very authoritative voice and that manic look.

And the best part is that, over the years and the decades, these looks and these mannerisms just haven’t changed. You can watch an old seventies flick about journalism in the Second World War or in Vietnam, and see that journalists look and act the same way as they do now, despite the prevalence of all this modern communication technology. I could recognise a fellow journo at a hundred paces, no doubt about it, and it is something that makes me feel all nostalgic inside. That’s what I like about journalists, I guess: their timelessness. It’s wonderful.

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