But until recently, we as journalists weren’t perceived as an enemy of the state. We were watchdogs, civil rights defenders, public advocates. We still are, but not in the hearts and minds of people who believe in “fake news”.
And then the news of the shooting in Annapolis came yesterday. Five journalists lost their lives, while their colleagues ran for a locked back door. Immediately after while a natural human reaction would be to curl up and hide, several staff members huddled together in a parking garage and were quoted as saying ““I don’t know what else to do except this,” and another Tweeted “We WILL have a paper tomorrow.”
While this may seem crazy to many, I wholeheartedly understand. For most journalists, or contemporary historians as I like to think of myself, this is a vocation, not unlike those called to the Cloth. Most of us choose this career, knowing hours will be long, holidays will be worked, and salaries will be low. I remember when I enrolled in the College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, my parents warned me of all of these things – and none of them mattered.
Since then I’ve cried with mothers who lost sons in war, spent the afternoon with children who lost parents in 9/11, found maggots outside of a storage unit where dismembered bodies were stored inside and been threatened by unscrupulous business owners. I did it because someone has to tell these stories. We are writing the first draft of the next generation’s history books.
On 9/11 I was on vacation with my new boyfriend, now husband. I made us leave early and drive back. I spent the next week in the newsroom, only to go home once in a while to sleep a little and shower.
I’m one of thousands like this. Since then I’ve “retired” from the daily insanity. I won’t lie, it’s wearing, your personal life takes a hit, and the sadness and violence you witness creates a callous on your soul. I left for the same reason my favorite broadcast news professor said he did. I left “while I still had some soul left.”
But I champion my colleagues that are still fighting the good fight. I find fault in the approach to coverage by some outlets myself. (Don’t get me started on CNN’s overused BREAKING NEWS graphic and audio stinger.) But we should all understand that newsrooms are competing for survival and a fractured audience. Staffs are being reduced. Those who are left are being asked to do the jobs of five people for the same or less pay. There are few “beat” reporters left. And now many of them are worried for their lives.
Journalists are the guardians or our democracy. Without them, who is reading through piles of Bills and FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests? Sure, many of them have room for improvement. But know that most of them are working in the profession at great personal sacrifice, and they certainly shouldn’t have to sacrifice their life in the process.