KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — Aspiring journalists must have passion, enthusiasm and most importantly — not be a cherry picker who thinks a nine-to-five working hour would do, a former reporter with The Washington Post said today.
As a reporter based in a repressive Latin America of the early 70s, John Dinges, an esteemed former foreign correspondent with Time magazine and The Washington Post, helped uncover truths about the brutality of military regimes despite working under oppressive conditions.
His reports, along with other foreign reporters at the time, helped reveal the mass killings of dissidents by the military juntas of Chile and Argentina, and later became important documents that helped families of victims seek reparations and justice.
In sharing his experiences at the Cooler Lumpur Festival here, Dinges said one of the principles that journalists must have is to understand that they are accountable to the people.
“If you think oh okay, there’s something big but it’s five now time to go, that’s not journalism. If you think it’s a nine-to-five job, that’s not journalism,” he said at his session titled “Journalism in Service of Democracy”.
And journalism has been under constant threat by power, Dinges added, noting that while the enemies change — from governments to businesses — their aim remains the same: control.
So aspiring reporters must always understand that the fight for a free and independent press is constant.
While he understands that the notion of a free media is non-existent — all media are under some degree of control either by its funders or restrictive laws — reporters can find ways to work within the constraints without compromising the truth.
“If the government doesn’t try to repress the media, then we won’t have to fight for press freedom. In any society there will always be attempts to control and limit the press,” he said.
“So journalists fighting for press freedom, that’s business as usual. We have to find ways to work within that authoritarian environment. Do what you can do the best, willing to take the risk”.
But most importantly, a reporter has to be accurate and truthful in reporting as credibility is everything for a reporter.
Dinges, who now teaches journalism as a professor at Columbia University, said: “You need people to trust you, that’s the most important thing”.