Why the long face?

Because everyone hates a hack that's why, says Glenda Cooper

In the 18th century the essayist and part-time hack Samuel Johnson knew exactly what he thought of journalists - "a man without virtue who writes lies at home for his own profit".

Two centuries on, nothing has changed. Everyone still dislikes us. Every year journalists fight it out with MPs and estate agents to see who comes top of the opinion polls measuring the least popular and trustworthy professions.

In fact, common adjectives used to describe us include aggressive, abusive, insensitive, chain-smoking, drunken and untruthful. And that's just by our mothers.

But new evidence presented at an international conference last week reveals that we have been reading journalists all wrong. Far from being super- confident Lotharios, hacks are - well there's no other word for it - shy.

At the world's first conference on shyness held in Cardiff by the British Psychological Society, Professor Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University and founder of the Shyness Institute, California singled out both television and newspaper journalists as shrinking violets and suggested that was why they picked the profession in the first place.

In the keynote speech to the conference Prof Zimbardo said as many as 60 per cent of the population admit to being shy now - a growth of a fifth in the past 20 years. Approximately a quarter of those could be termed "shy extroverts" who may be "publicly extrovert, and possess social skills but who sees the public persona as an act distinct from the private self... They feel if anyone gets to know them intimately then they will discover the damaged self."

This, Prof Zimbardo believes, is particularly true of journos who he thinks choose their career because of their bashfulness. Which may sound like a paradox but the professor explains that their work deflects attention from themselves and keeps people at a distance: "Look at the way newspaper reporters communicate," he said. "They ask all the questions and demand answers. Questions are never asked of them. They are in the powerful position. They dominate the highly structured conversation, they have the control."

He said that he had been interviewed on many occasions by broadcast journalists who said nothing until the red light (indicating recording) went on and they came to life. The second the red light went off, however, they would stalk off the set, usually neglecting even to say goodbye. "This is typical behaviour... Their external persona mean we have misjudged them."

At last! Someone realises the inner torment that journalists go through. At school, a future hack is the most unpopular kid in the class (because of your timidity, you make no friends and everyone thinks you tell lies). Then you grow up, become a reporter to deal with your inner turmoil (and settle a few scores) only to find that still everyone hates you because they still think you tell lies.

So next time that reporter sticks their notebook in your face, realise it's only because they are too sad to communicate in any other way. When they're still standing outside your door at midnight to catch with you with that bimbette, it's only because they're too coy to form a relationship themselves. And when they misquote you horrendously, twist your words and embarrass you hugely, remember 30 years after playground scuffles we are still knocking on your doors and you still won't come out to playn

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