Jovana Joksimović: Journalism as a profession, not an ideology

I trust news more than opinions because every opinion is essentially fake news

At a time when the public blames journalism for all the problems in society, we spoke with Jovana Joksimović, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Tanjug news agency, about the challenges of her profession, while at the same time, she shed light on the most common prejudices related to the relation between journalists, the political system and society as a whole.

Photo: Jovana Joksimović, © Miloš Nadaždin

Your long-standing journalistic career has been quite diverse. Apart from being known as the editor and host of a very popular morning programme, since last year, you have also been the editor-in-chief of the largest national news agency. How challenging are these different genres of journalism for you? Could you tell us which one is your favourite?

Since both the morning programme and the agency deal with information/news, I would disagree with you about these two being different genres. Journalism is simply journalism, a job that consists of telling people what is happening around them and in the world, so I deal with one and the same thing both in the morning and the afternoon, and that’s my favourite. I report the news.

Morning programmes on all TV stations in Serbia are one of the most watched and most popular programmes. Has that habit of “turning on the TV” as soon as we get up perhaps faded a little today and instead we all turn on our mobile phones first?

There is a theory that says that, in about thirty years, there will be no TV sets, but it does not say that there will be no TV stations and TV programmes. And that is, you will agree, quite true, as we watch more and more programmes on our tablets, laptops and phones. Our job is to adapt to that, as well as the generations to come who have no desire to watch anything for more than a few minutes.

How much does the way news is consumed change the way it is transmitted? As an editor, what do you think of the necessary changes that journalism is currently going through?

They are not that bad because these changes are forcing us to return to the basic postulates of the profession that we have somehow neglected – to be fast, accurate and to break the news immediately. Many journalists today do not know what a lead is. Now, they will have to learn, if they want anyone to read, listen to, or watch them.

Maybe, we should all change, not the tabloids

The inevitable question, without which we could not imagine this conversation, is related to media freedom. We are very interested in your view on this matter, especially considering that your name and the media you work at are often viewed as being “closely linked to the state authorities”.

We were labelled that on certain social media platforms, thanks to the rumours spread about us by the competition, which doesn’t tolerate anyone who would go about their business without siding with anyone. For them, journalism is not a profession, but an ideology, and that’s why they need to dig trenches and shoot everyone who isn’t in them. For them, it is more important to shout slogans than to report the news, and you cannot really talk to slogans. On several occasions, I tried to get an explanation about what this “close link to the state authorities” actually entails and I never got one since it does not exist, nor is it important. The only thing that mattered to them was degrading someone because they did not side with anyone.

Is it utopian to expect that the media can be independent today (from a global perspective)? Has media freedom long since disappeared and the state authorities are now in the same subservient position to big capital and corporations?

In my opinion, the most terrible thing is that the media themselves have decided to give up their independence and side with a certain option. Whoever they work for, it’s their choice, just like it’s their choice to work against someone, and to engage in politics, instead of just reporting about it. There are almost no media outlets that are not convinced that it is their God-given right to decide who should win the elections, even though they do not participate in those elections per se, nor would they pass the election threshold. And that is horrible!

How can you uphold the dignity of the journalistic profession? How can we defeat the tabloidization of the entire society, which has a growing appetite for sensations, scandals and catering only to basic instincts?

To be clear, tabloids have existed since the time of William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, so basically they have always been here and will continue to be. They did not create the society, but the society created them. And I use the word “society” on purpose instead of the word “politics”, because politics only uses what society serves it on a platter. Maybe, we should all change, not the tabloids.

The most terrible thing is that the media themselves have decided to give up their independence and side with a certain option

Which type of journalism prevails today – copy journalism or the investigative kind? 

One of the first rules you are taught in journalism school is that “adjectives are the greatest enemy of nouns”, therefore also enemies of writing and reporting. That’s exactly why I never liked adjectives to be used in conjunction with the word “journalism”, even by those people that talk about various “types” of this profession. If you want to report news from an outdoor green market, you have to go there in person and talk to sellers, wholesale buyers, management, inspectors, shoppers, cleaners… Once you do that, you need to make a three-sentence news piece, which you cannot even claim as your own. And that is true for whatever you do. This is not any special kind of “investigative” journalism, but simply your job. That’s why I think that “types of journalism” were invented by people to add something to their name, not to their profession. And by doing so, they ruined it.

When you are not at work and when you change into ‘civilian’ clothes, do you believe the news you read and watch? What do you think about today’s media content? What advice would you give to readers and viewers?

I would tell them that they should demand the media to do their job and serve the purpose for which they were created, to report the news to the people and not to tell them what to think. That’s the principle I work by. I trust news more than opinions because every opinion is essentially fake news.

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