It's 6 a.m., the sun is softly shining and the sea is smooth and thick like olive oil. The only scent in the air is that of my father's first morning cigarette, as he wakes up. His first reflex: reaching for his nearby cigarette. His second: enjoying the unique silence that Greece's Cycladic island of Paros offers. A perfect time to brainstorm, to think, to analyze, but most of all, to write.
As a journalist passionate about his profession, my father could not help but constantly sharing the inexplicable and intense relationship he had with words, phrases, concepts, as well as people's stories, and world's history and cultures. As my reality as a child was tinted with the diverse color palette of journalism, including interviews, press releases, reportages, and investigations, I decided to take the same career path.
My father was part of this generation of journalists that one might very well call the "dinosaurs" of the profession, at a time when the foundations of journalism needed to be established and reinforced. A glass of whiskey, an ashtray full of butts of cigarettes and a pile of old newspapers, drafts of articles and press releases served as the main decoration on his desk, as he would carefully choose his words while writing articles for Le Figaro on a small classical typewriter. Only for a sip or to stub out his Winston would he stop writing.
While other parents would read Disney stories to their kids, my father would tell me about his various reportages in former French colonies in Western Africa, in the United States and Canada, as well as French Polynesia and Eastern Europe.
At the time, journalism was about getting the scoop and being the first to tell relevant stories in an intelligent and fair manner. It was about, as George Orwell wrote in 1984, "printing what someone else doesn't want printed." Today, the wonderful amount of information available makes it nonetheless hard for many to differentiate between what is true and relevant and what is not. Journalism is now almost about showing online what someone else has already reported on, provided that it is more or less accepted by the majority. Censorship was a reality back then, and it remains one today.
Shortly before my father left Le Figaro in early 2000, he noticed a new generation of journalists. They were young, very young; they had just graduated from the best French universities and were highly worldly. But, one thing was missing: They didn't have the tormented passion for the unknown, this journalistic je ne sais quoi that the "old goats" would thrive on. Most of them, he recalled, didn't feel the desire or the need to travel, discover and report. Rather, they preferred reporting on international issues from the comfort of their Parisian office chair. This is not, of course, a critic, but rather the observation of a changing mentality and approach on the profession. Needless to say that the digital era has also made this phenomenon an even more palpable reality.
My father used to compare storytelling with fine cuisine. I would rather compare it with the process of creating a perfume, as the choice of ingredients is even more critical and meticulous. Some perfumers, or as we call them in French, "nez" -- which means "nose" -- argue that they feel more comfortable expressing ideas, opinions and feelings with scents than with spoken words.
And that is exactly how I see journalism. A successful reportage is like a delicate perfume. Finding the perfect combination of jasmine, musk, rose and others takes time; it is precise, abstract but also concrete. It can also involve various unknown ingredients and methods, but always requires dedication and patience. And if successful, the final synesthetic result is a pleasurable experience for the creator's and for the audience's senses.
As long as there are still journalists who will use the tools available in the digital era in a strategic way that will allow them to continue creating in-depth reportages on the ground to illustrate reality fairly, storytelling will continue evolving, and as such preventing the original roots of the profession to become extinct. This involves using online tools to improve journalism on the international level, as well as accepting that social media -- as useful and limitless as it is -- cannot replace talented foreign correspondents on the grounds.