More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism, part 118

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism’, is to be published March 1 next year, by Kennedy & Boyd, Glasgow, and available from

THERE was an excellent book published in 2007 entitled, The cult of the amateur.

Basically, it makes one very sound point: far from increasing the availability of real knowledge, our modern means of instant communication and so-called understanding, specifically the internet, propagates laziness, false and unreliable information, prejudice and ill-formed views.

Why read a book when you can go online and get someone else’s 100-word rundown on the topic at the press of a button?

The fact that that person may, him or herself, have copied that from some other dubious website posting, itself made by an anonymous half-wit, seems to be irrelevant.

Ready access to information does not make you an instant expert, as millions now seem to believe.

What makes experts is hours, days, months and years of tedious study in libraries and darkened rooms reading books and searching for real understanding.

That is then followed by careful thought processes, as a result of which informed views are formulated. It all may sound very boring and old-fashioned but I believe that is the reality.

Similarly, real journalists are not just people with mobile phones capable of producing grainy, truly awful photographs or video clips, but people who have studied a subject in depth and are capable not just of repeating facts but providing in-depth analysis and communicating meaningful insights.