An Interview with Douglas Rushkoff


Haegwan Kim

I want to ask you about your personal definition of success.

Douglas Rushkoff

My definition of success?  I don’t really think about it.

HK

Many people would say so (laughter).

DR

And I guess I don’t think about it because, for me, it would imply that there’s two states of being – an "unsuccessful" state of being and a "successful" state of being. That's a pretty dualistic conception.  I don't think success is something that you can measure : when you die, have you succeeded, or not?  But in a casual way, I suppose I would judge success more in terms of  "do I feel that I’m continuing to make progress towards my greater goals?"

HK

What is your greater goal?

DR

My greater goals? To help alleviate unnecessary pain and suffering in the world. I do this, more specifically, by trying to help people recognise that a lot of what they take for granted or see as given circumstances, as reality, are really things that can be changed. People look at many things as if God put them here, just the way they are - when most things are not pre-existing conditions at all. Most things, most systems, have been put here by people with agendas.  I want people to see the world as less permanent, not set in stone. It’s up for discussion.

HK

You’ve been a new media journalist for a long time, so I was just wondering what is the key element, if that exits, to be a great journalist?

DR

Well, right now, I think it’s pretty simple: is the person willing to find out something new? Most people who think of themselves as journalists today just want to read what’s on the internet, and then make some comment on it. There are very few people who are willing to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, much les go and investigate something. There are very few journalists willing to do what I used to be called "legwork," which is actually working - that’s what makes a good journalist. What would make a great one, I guess, is the ability to tell something in a way new, to find ways of seeing things and connecting things. Great journalists get access to people, places, and things that the rest of us can’t get to – whether they risk their lives to get to a war place, or risk their brain to get to a certain way of thinking, or their time, to spend a whole lot of time to get to some difficult intellectual place.

HK

That’s a really interesting point. Do you think with the rise of social media, the key element of being a journalist, the meaning of being a journalist, is changing now?

DR

Yes, I guess the biggest impact of the media on journalism is that it has convinced many people that they’re journalists when they may not be. Today to a lot of people that there’s no difference between an amateur journalist and a professional. Between someone who works all day and develops a craft, and someone who just wings it.

HK

So it’s become easier to become a journalist?

DR

It’s become easier for people to think of themselves as journalists. There’s a difference.

HK

Okay.

DR

It’s dangerous, because the net has not simply elevated the amateur, it has de-professionalised the professional. So people no longer see the value in a professional journalist, and I think there is value in the profession. I think that there are some people - and I’m not even counting myself among them - who are trained and talented in uncovering the truth. They can only do the work if we support them, and that means making them professional.

If you have governments and corporations who are spending millions of dollars to hide the truth, then you should have some people around who are trained in uncovering the truth, and you should give them the money they need to actually do this, with some purpose and with some time.

HK

So you are disagreeing with the opinion that amateur journalists will take over from the professional journalists? Today we can get many information for free; but some people say we should pay some money for The New York Times, The Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal – do you think we have to still pay some money for the professional journalists?

DR

I think that there are some good reasons to keep a few very qualified people alive, who do professional journalism. And I think they should be paid - whether they are paid by those who buy newspapers, or whether they’re paid by free governments who believe that these things should be funded by taxpayers, that’s not for me to say. I’m just going so far as to say that just as it is a smart idea to have some professional doctors, who have the time and energy, who are paid to learn about how the body works, and learn about how to cure it; I think it’s good to have some professional police officers, who are paid to use guns and know how to shoot people and know how to identify a criminal; I think it’s a smart idea to have some people who are trained and who dedicate their working lives to be journalists.

It’s considered controversial to say that, because people want to believe that the freedom to express ourselves on the internet is the same thing as saying everyone is a professional journalist now, or everyone has equal ability. I don't agree. Everyone may have the equal ability to get online, but not everyone has the equal ability to make sense of the world. I am not a correspondent in the White House, and the people who are there are better than I am at that; and just because I could go there with a blog and type, doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing, right?

HK

True. As a final question I want to ask you your advice to achieve success in general?

DR

I suppose there’s two ways to achieve success: one would be to work hard, to be passionate about whatever it is that you’ve defined as a goal. If you create a goal about something that you’re not actually passionate about, it’s going to be very hard to get the energy to go for it. But I think the easiest way to achieve success is to define what you’re in right now as your path to success. Then you do whatever you want.

Douglas Rushkoff is a media journalist, author, teacher, and documentarian. His website

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