"She represents what is best and most indestructible about the journalist profession", declared Dean Bruno Patino in his introduction of Marion Van Renterghem, the special guest at the inaugural lecture of the School of Journalism. "Take your time"; "cultivate honesty and make facts your religion"; these were just some of the pieces of advice she offered to those hoping to follow this '’slightly crazy" career in a world that loves to hate the press.
"Never before has democracy been so threatened, never before has journalism been so denigrated", warned journalist Marion Van Renterghem, speaking before students of the School of Journalism at their inaugural lecture. "Yet the world needs you, the journalists, more than ever,'' she continued, before recounting her path as a renowned reporter, from her time at Le Monde to Vanity Fair, and the numerous revolutions she bore witness to.
"Journalists have lost the monopoly on defining the narrative"
These revolutions were those of a world that had become "more complex", divided by the populism that caricatures the notion of an elite and that of the people. There was also a revolution of the profession itself, one which has "lost the monopoly it had on defining the narrative and its diffusion". "Before, the distinction between who was a journalist, and who was not, was clear. Today, anyone can claim to be a journalist." For the eminent journalist, this is both a challenge and an opportunity: "The emphasis on quality has never been greater. You have to prove to everyone that you are a better storyteller than amateur journalists."
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To meet this challenge, despite the evolution of technology from notepads to smartphones, she believes in returning to the fundamental values of the profession. "Certain things do not change: journalism is a way of life, a way of looking at things, of understanding without passing judgment." When faced with the need to publish instantly, and with the seduction of generating '’buzz", she advises the new recruits to "take the time to slow down, to listen to all points of view, especially those that differ from yours. In an interview, the first 30 minutes don't matter. It is only towards the end that people begin speaking to you honestly."
"Truthfulness of facts and a just perspective"
Another strength to cultivate, according to her, is style. "Strive towards speaking a clear and beautiful language. For this, you mustn't rely solely on newspapers: my role-models as a writer are Gustave Flaubert and Paul Morand." In addition, "we must understand that neutrality does not exist. No human being is neutral." Worse, "in the name of neutrality we sometimes justify fake news, because facts have begun to lose their sacred nature. You must find out the truthfulness of facts and ensure the perspective is just." To conduct journalism in this evolving world, she concludes that "you must distinguish yourselves from others on the basis of two cardinal virtues: curiosity, and honesty."