A Journalist’s ‘If’ (with apologies to Kipling)


Way back in 1975 the Sydney television newsreader Roger Climpson delivered a memorable rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem ‘If’ at my Caringbah High School speech night.

It prompted me to buy a poster of the famous verse and hang it next to Kahlil Gibran’s ‘Desiderata’ on my bedroom wall.

Thirty years later I was moved to bend and stretch Kipling’s precious words for the benefit of my Newspaper Reporting class. Each year I start my first lecture for that subject with its recital.

Today I share the product of that desecration of rhyme and meter with my Journlaw.com readers.

Perhaps your own J-students or junior colleagues might be inspired – if they can forgive my literary sins.

Or maybe you’d like to add a verse by way of ‘Comment’?


A JOURNALIST’S ‘IF’ (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

If you can make some sense out of a complicated mess

And craft a bright, clear lead of 20 words or less

If you can take pride in the words that stand beneath your name

But know a byline carries more responsibility than fame


If you can stay well beyond your shift and burn the midnight oil

Just to get the story done, expecting nothing for your toil

When all your friends are partying the wee small hours away

While you’re still at the office – just because you want to stay.


If you can realise journalism holds a place for every type,

The quiet golden retriever and the terrier with its bark and hype

That there are many ways to chase a story and do our very best

We match our methods to our type and aim to beat the rest.


If you can drive to work not knowing where you’ll finish up that day

And accept that some disaster might be just an hour away

Or that you might be with a sporting star or chatting with Tom Cruise

Or editing the tidal charts and checking crossword clues.


If you can interview a president and then a homeless soul

And learn to listen to them both to make your story whole

Because listening and questioning are the golden pair

Then accuracy, a nose for news, and a commitment to be fair.


If you learn writing is important, but it’s not the florid kind

“Keep it simple stupid” is the motto to bear in mind.

There’s scope for creativity with the angle, not the facts,

And adjectives and adverbs are bound to get the axe.


If you shelve your own opinions, despite how heartfelt they may be
Allowing others their full say, erasing that word “me”.

Remember readers own the press – it’s not there for you

It’s not your job to impress, but to seek another view.

If you can rise above the pressure of all your precious peers

And snatch a story from beneath their noses which burns their lazy ears

But still realise that sometimes you need to hunt in packs

Ever mindful of the need to keep arm’s length from all the hacks.


If you can take a newsroom full of cynics – crusty, gnarled and tired

And ignite them with that passion for which you have been hired

And see them reinvent themselves and restart their careers

All because your zest for life is music to their ears.


And then if a disaster strikes, if you can set aside your fears

And focus on the story amidst the blood and gore and tears

While many of your readers may be floating upside down

You get the presses rolling with the news to that wet town.


If you can defy the speed of sound and take a steady note

When all around are struggling to record a simple quote

And sit and watch the television replay those words you heard

Quoted on your own front page – exactly word for word.


If you can convince the toughest source you are someone they can trust

And don’t go off the record unless you truly must

And if you do, assure them that your honour will not fail

Even when you’re threatened with a lengthy stay in jail.


If you take yourself to places you would normally not go

In search of fresh new contacts – people you don’t know

Because stories lie in wait of you in clubs and shops and bars

Folks with different interests, who might well come from Mars.


If you can build a contact book others would kill to access

And keep it safe because that may be truer than you guess

Double check the spelling of even the simplest name

Cos even Jonny Smyth might not be spelt the same.


If you know when to knock upon the door of a grieving mother

And, equally, when to leave that same job to another

Yet show her it was worthwhile letting others see her tears

Because that’s the way we change the world and allay each other’s fears.


If you can stand at the dinner table among the chattering classes

And defend the freedom of the press as they snigger in their glasses

As they try to shoot the messenger for all and sundry ills

Remind them that it’s not the pen, but the crooked sword that kills.


And finally, if you can craft a masterpiece, and have it chopped from the end
Yours is the world and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a journalist, my friend!


© Mark Pearson 2005

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