Thoughts by Colin James on journalism

has retired after 50 years of writing and analysis. One of the most insightful people I know.

His final column has some wisdom worth sharing:

Journalists live two lives: the inner and the craft.

When David Lange died and the Greens stood in his memory opening their 2005 election campaign, I the journalist stayed sitting while I the inner person behind the journalist secretly stood. There was the same wrench when the Council of Trade Unions conference in 2015 stood in memory of the fine Peter Conway.

Journalists are close in to events but never part of them. They meet the powerful and the celebrated. Some are seduced into thinking themselves their equals. They are then lost to journalism.

Wise words.

Journalists make no momentous decisions. Celebrity ill-becomes them. They are a channel through which the powerful and celebrated talk to the people and the people talk back.

To others, the journalist seems greatly privileged to be alongside power and stardust. And the journalist is privileged. But not in the way most non-journalists think.

The privilege is to spend a lifetime learning.

A journalist can ask questions of almost everyone and almost all will answer: the powerful and celebrated, the knowing and skilled, the repositories of arcane science or ways of thinking and the “ordinary” guardians of understanding of a community or of a simple truth or of a good way to live an “ordinary” life.

They are all at the journalist’s call. They all teach a journalist who listens.

Listening is the real skill.

For some, expression is journalism’s pleasure. They are would-be writers and journalism is as close as they can get.

For me, writing it down was the grind. Words shuffled off the keyboard or sat stuttering. They often said to readers different things from what I thought I had said. Words, I found, are wilful and wayward.

Nevertheless, for five decades generous editors and readers encouraged me in my attempts at this exacting craft. They privileged me to go on learning.

So I have had a working life beyond any of my youthful imaginings. It usually scarcely felt like work. I often pinched myself: surely I can’t be here doing this.

It seems weird to me to think of political reporting and analysis without Colin James. But while his weekly column is ended, I am sure we will still get to read him from time to time.

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