Be a Mensch first!


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Journalism used to be a respected profession. We go out and meet other people, share their stories, report them for the benefit of others. If we are considered to be rude or inappropriate, at worst let it be for a persistent question asked, for that is our trade, whilst we must know also our boundaries in terms of what is a person’s private sphere.

But there is another side I witness at times. I have to say, sometimes, I wonder about the self-centred “me first” ambition of some of my fellow journalistic colleagues (not all, thank goodness!).

Here is an example that I encountered today as I waited in front of an English court of law from from around 08.00 in the morning onwards for the doors to open at 09.00 (I left my home at 06.45 for that). My preparation had paid off, as I was one of only five colleagues, who were amongst the first in front of the court-building door. By the time the court-building had opened, there were some 25 journos outside, and by the time the courtroom door (up on the third floor) opened, it must have been well over 30 colleagues plus ordinary persons, members of the public, who just came to observe.

I always treat my fellow colleagues with collegial respect. Having been in the business for a while, in fact I have been in journalism on and off for about 28 years, I experienced oftentimes that colleagues help each other and try to prevent replication of asking a source. Sometimes the help goes above that, with cars, food, even accommodation shared, even if one is not from the same media organ. But not always, and today I almost missed out on a court hearing due to good manners, which include as it stands, to not push myself in front of others with disregard and to try to upkeep civility and politeness – a skill that got not the least refined from living in England – when others showed hardly any of these attributes.

It started when some colleagues, who arrived rather late stationed themselves self-importantly beside and then before me and in the front line. As soon as the doors to the building opened, they and others almost run into the court building trying to be the firsts to be in. As I was right in front of the main entrance door, in spite of those pushy folks, I managed, without too much hurry, still to be amongst the first ten persons in the waiting room on the third floor in front of the courtroom, after we were let in and had gone through the security controls. Had they not pushed, I would have been amongst the first two or three upstairs. When the doors to the court-room opened after another hour of wait upstairs, the media league began yet again and with even more eagerness to ferociously push itself through the door into the court-room itself, as if inside somebody was giving out free diamonds to the first to arrive inside.

The entrance was almost blocked when several people at the same time tried to enter. Some of those who had come last were amongst the worst offenders. It was unbelievable behaviour these professionals beared to the open. As I finally entered, there were hardly any seats of the 30 plus seats left. A man shouted, there was a seat still free beside him. Whilst I was in front of a woman, a young determined journalist half my age, I was cavalier enough to allow her to take that seat, saying, please, You have it. Now I I am asking myself , why on earth did I feel the need to be polite? She self-righteously instead pushed ahead without a thank you.

So it was, that despite being one of the first at the location ready for work, I nearly missed out on one of the available seats, leaving me standing in the room, quite confused as to what had just happened. Already a court official declared that “those still standing would have to leave the room.” I feared for the worst, when only due to some sudden reshuffling on the order of the court officials, I was finally able to gather a seat, to my great surprise and relief.

Having witnessed that conduct, and having remained a mensch, almost to my detriment, the next frenzy was only about to start. One clever cocky journalist, well trimmed and in a fine suit, you would mistake him for what they refer to in this country as supposedly a gentleman, decided to request the names of the defence and prosecution lawyers single-handedly for himself. When he failed to volunteer his “most precious information” to all his other fellow colleagues, another five or six journalists started getting up from their seats queuing up behind the lawyer who had volunteerd the details, also requesting for the names and then, to my surprise, also not sharing the details to all (at best they did to those seated next to them). It was totally disorderly and very non-collegial. The rule in the room seemed to be ‘get what you can’, ‘disregard all others, or how you get it.’

This may be an attitude that at times helps journalists in certain situations, but it really had no place inside an English courtroom, not the least, because court officials will always assist journalists to get whatever information they may require about the persons involved in a case, unless they are instructed not to. Eventually, the court officials put a stop to the small queue of journos behind the lawyer in question, who himself was rather baffled by it all.

In the end, all journalists found a space to sit and all journalists who required information received it. There was no need for the behaviour shown.

Perhaps, with foresight, the court officials should have prepared for that, given the amount of media interest. I have been in courtrooms where the information of the names of the accused, the judge and the lawyers were already prepared on a special hand-out list for journos or sometimes a sheet with that information would circulate from seat to seat for us to copy. I have also been in courts where there was a number put to journalists, in accordance to arrival time, sometimes, especially in Old Baily cases, we have to pre-announce our intention to reserve a space.

The colleague next to me was one of the five people who managed to get those names from the lawyer. She shared those with the man to her right, but forgot me, seated to her left. She only thought of volunteering the names after I explicitly asked for them (at least she did that without further ado). In the end, I did not even need the names later, as it was not too relevant for German news.

There were about a dozen people in the public gallery watching the behaviour of all of this, as well as the court officials and lawyers. If people have little respect for our profession, here was just another admittedly small example, showing that we can not even behave well towards or respect our very own colleagues. Treat your neighbour like yourself, or treat your colleague like yourself is an anathema here, it seems.

The last time I witnessed such behaviour was about three years ago, when a journalist went up to an emotionally strained Grenfell survivor to ask for her details in a public meeting and refused to share that detail with other colleagues, requiring them also to go up one by one to that survivor (this was only days after the inferno). I remember that the journalist had eventually given me some information, but not all, giving off an attitude of somehow being the clever or deserving one. Maybe she was, was she?

A few years ago at a large world leaders and experts summit hosted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, journalists were treated with a degree of contempt, amongst others, not being allowed into many areas into which we should have been allowed for access (such as where debates and presentations occurred). Our access area was severely limited. I complained about that at the time. But to be honest, after what I have witnessed today, is it a surprise, if some think, we must be managed quite vehemently, and that often, in order to report, we have to get accredited, which, by the way, is still not a guarantee that people, fellow journalists, behave themselves with courtesy and with respect to others. In my rule book for the job that is amongst the twelve commandments of the trade. But maybe, approaching my 50s I am just old-school, like the fact, that I still prefer to take notes on a paper notepad, rather than record everything digitally. But to be a mensch, to be kind, surely, is never something outdated, though at times it could be rare.

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