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We talked to Bret at the recent CIRSD conference in Belgrade.
Mr Stephens: It is an excellent time to start writing as a journalist. You hear a lot of people saying it is a terrible time, that the newspapers are in decline, the news and even analyses are becoming a commodity that anyone can provide. I think that's wrong. I think its a dynamic time. I think it’s a time where the opportunities for true entrepreneurship and technological innovation and reinvention in journalism have never been as strong.
I would say first to young people who want to, or thinking about the career in journalism, to jump in. This is not contrary to conventional wisdom in a dying industry. This is an industry in its renaissance.
The second thing I would say is: great journalism is about great writing, and its about great questions. To be a great writer you have to read great writers. So I would say to young journalists: do not study manuals to journalism. Read Tolstoy and Stendhal and Austin and Faulkner and get a sense of just how powerful language can be.
Secondly, become historically literate, because you can't connect the dots if you don't know where the dots are in the first place.
The third thing I would say is: understand the power of new technology; understand that they are dynamic and that there is no incumbency now. A person, like Arianna Huffington can have remarkable impact which would have been unimaginable years ago.
The final point and the most important point is that the role of journalism is to be disrespectful. And I mean that in a sense of not simply obeying the forms and conventions of the industry, or the rules of the society. You have to have the courage as a journalist, to think differently and to ask differently. And that requires the certain personality type.
You often meet a lot of journalists who are personally quite unpleasant people. But that's OK because if you have to be unpleasant you may as well be one as a journalist. That’s our job.
We are supposed to be stinging the people in power. Yesterday I heard a historian on the stage from Germany saying that 'the role of the historian is to butcher the secret cow'. I would say that's also the role of the journalism.