Wannabe Hacks – Ensuring the Next Generation of Journalists are as Myopic as the Current Crop


Ah, Wannabe Hacks, that bastion of youth and lubricant of journalistic employment.

The entrepreneurial blog is gaining a cult following by directly addressing the student journalist market and has been positively featured in The Guardian, The Observer and The Telegraph, to name but a few established media outlets jumping on the ‘Wannabe’ bandwagon and the flock of impressionable aspiring journalists who ritually read its content.

Wannabe Hacks launched two years ago amidst a tidal wave of anti-establishment/industry rhetoric.

“We are, in effect, guinea pigs in our own experiment. Which path will be most successful? Who will still be jobless this time next year? Questions we cannot answer now, but we can light the way for those that follow. We want to be the recognised resource for students and graduates looking to enter the world of journalism. Advice from the horses mouth so to speak, rather from those already established in the industry.” – Ben Whitelaw, Ex-Hack, promoting his new  blog in The New Statesman back in 2010.

These five young journalists painted themselves as martyrs to the cause; they would rescue journalism from the bourgeoisie of arrogant scribes who were stewarding the industry towards ruin. These selfless heroes would fail in the industry so that the rest of us wouldn’t have to. What a nice thing to do, eh?

Except none of them failed. Or saved the industry. Or even changed the industry.

The Hacks team, Nick Petrie, Ben Whitelaw, Matt Caines, Tom Clarke and Alice Vincent now all work within the mainstream media, at publications such as The Times, The Guardian and, of course, The Daily Mail.

I don’t begrudge them of their success, in fact, as a fellow journalist I admire them for carving a sure-fire route into an industry that is notoriously difficult to break in to. But I do begrudge their false proclamations of martyrdom and rebellion. Wannabe Hacks had a rare opportunity to initiate an evolution of practices and ideals in an industry stunted by traditionalism and myopia. They had the audience, the technology and the writing skills which would enable them to move journalism away from the issues which have brought about a public backlash to journalists. Phone-hacking, police bribery and tabloidisation are a few of the issues turning public opinion against journalists and their murky practices.

The general consensus throughout the web-savvy contingent of the journalism industry is that Networked Journalism is the answer to these issues. If journalists could be co-creators and curators of content, rather than creators of content and false realities, then the industry could transcend the cancerous issues which infect its practice.

Wannabe Hacks could have utilised Networked Journalism to create a true online hub for young journalists. If they had allowed users to post articles this would have resulted in a revolutionary co-creator environment, right at the fingertips of the future generation of journalists.

Instead the site is a locked down microcosm of the out-dated and ill-fated journalism industry which still prevails today; Top-down hierarchical structure, journalists handing content down to audience, audience having little say in content.  They are using new technology with old ideas, trying to dictate the future through an archaic paradigm.

And because of this, despite their assertions to be on the side of aspiring journalists, Wannabe Hacks are actually sticking another knife into the back of the nation’s young writers. Their message can be reduced to one slice of advice, “Copy the ‘professionals’ or you won’t get a job.”

This message can’t be good for the real wannabe hacks – seeking to better the morality and merit of their vocation -, nor their job prospects.


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