THE other day I said journalists were way down there in the league of distrusted occupations. Oh no you’re not, a chum said. Oh yes we are. The results of a new survey proves the point.
Just 1% of people said they trust estate agents and politicians. A paltry 2% trust bankers and only 3% put their faith in journalists.
Three per cent! And me who earned only a modest salary all my life and now live on a pension of turnips and once, in my unimpeachable honesty, turned down a pint from Piggy Wood in the White Lion because it might be construed as payola.
A career of irregular hours and mixing with policemen and councillors and searching for stories in pubs – all human life is there don’t you know – and wearing my fingers to the bone over a hot keyboard so the presses could rumble on time. And this is my legacy?
As I stand here in the Examiner library looking at the cardboard boxes of my work that covers everything from the day I visited a School for Strippers to spending an afternoon with Frank Carson and discovering that it really is the way he tells ‘em, I find it hard to believe that the public thinks so little of me and my fellow hacks.
To my chagrin, even the legal profession beat us. Figures show 25% said they trust barristers and solicitors above other professions.
And this is the occupation about which there are more jokes than any other.
The trouble with the legal profession, goes the line, is that 98% of its members give the rest a bad name.
You’ve heard them all before.
What’s black and brown and looks great on lawyers? Dobermans.
How do you stop a lawyer from drowning? Take your foot off his head.
Journalists don’t have jokes told about them in the same way, but some pretty notable writers have had comments to make about us over the years.
Yeats said we were: "The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth." Which is nice.
G K Chesterton was more whimsical about our worth: "Journalism largely consists of saying Lord Jones Is Dead to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."
Rebecca West had a more prosaic view: "Journalism is the ability of filling space."
Personally, I prefer to think of journalism as the rough draft of history and, yes, I stole the quote but don’t know who said it first. Probably a journalist.
Parliamentarian Edmund Burke recognised the value of a free Press back in the 18th century when he commented on the three estates of the realm – the Lord Spiritual (bishops and archbishops), the Lord Temporal (hereditary and life peers who form the House of Lords) and the Third Estate (elected Members of Parliament).
The Fourth Estate, he said, were the journalists in the Press Gallery, who were more important than all the others.
Without becoming pompous, newspapers are the guardians of democracy and defenders of the public interest as well as providing births, marriages and deaths, entertainment and how the fire brigade saved the puppy up a tree. The world would be a lot worse off without newspapers.
This still doesn’t alter the fact that lawyers are far lower in the league table of the distrusted – something my learned lawyer friend Lord Honley will undoubtedly make the most of the next time he buys me a drink.
I shall take his joshing in good part and remember the School for Strippers, Frank Carson, late night elections, scoops, triumphs and tragedies, rock concerts and race relations and console myself with the thought that I’ve had a lot more fun than he has in a job I’ve never considered to be work.
Journalism? As someone once said, it’s the best game in town.