Not an enemy of the people

Journalist walks into an embassy to get paper work to marry his fiancé and is never seen again. He covered hypocrisy and human rights violations in the Saudi Kingdom and paid for it with his life. Jamal Khashoggi.

TV journalist covers anti-corruption in Bulgaria and is raped and murdered. Viktoria Martinova.

Two journalists are dead in one week. Two countries. Both served the public interest in the right to know what is going on in their own governments.

One might think ah yes! But that’s Saudi Arabia! That’s Bulgaria.

Earlier this summer four journalists working for the Capitol Gazette were shot and killed in Annapolis, Maryland — the motive being the murderer’s displeasure with the newspaper covering his assault cases of various women (which were public record).

It is dangerous to be a journalist. It always has been necessary for journalism to be a check and balance on government, corporations, and community standards.

It’s election season. Some would also say it very much is open season on journalists.

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air,” wrote Henry Anatole Grunwald, former managing editor of Time Magazine and editor in chief of Time, Inc.

We, as a society should not be in the business of condemning journalism but instead recognizing its ultimate function — the critical eye, our critical eye — that seeks to shed light in the dark spaces of our every day life in hopes to make the world a better place.

It was journalists who told us about Central Americans seeking asylum that were separated from their parents at the southern border. It was journalists who told us about Flint, Michigan’s lack of drinkable water. It was journalists who told us of our social media accounts being hacked. Of bees dying off. Of predation by priests in the Catholic church. Of fraud and tax evasion. Of who is lobbying for what in our federal government, our state government, our local. Journalists and scientists save the country from itself over and over again. Like knowing what’s in your food? Thank a journalist and a scientist.

Journalism has been hit hard with Americans far away and so close claiming “fake news” every time there’s a fact they wish was different. I read things all the time that I have to reconsider my opinion about and have changed my opinion when it is warranted.

Many times people approach me with conspiracy theories as to why something didn’t get covered or didn’t get covered in the way they wanted. It’s never political bias. It’s almost always time. Energy. Budget.

When I was at the Los Angeles Times there was a grand conspiracy as to why we didn’t cover something that had happened three blocks away. People accused the paper of having a political bias. In truth we were short reporters on a Sunday and no one had sent in a press release and it wasn’t covered. No conspiracy, just budget cuts.

The reading public often takes for granted what a newspaper does for the community and does not always entirely appreciate its efforts. That’s okay. We don’t need to have our praises sung. But we should be safe and free to pursue the stories that grab our attention. Good journalism isn’t free either. I’m amazed at how one thinks quality should be theirs for free. It costs money to send journalists everywhere in the world for the story.  It takes skill and savvy for a quality paper to come out every day — or every week.

There are always more stories than make a paper. A journalist weighs the story. Is it something the general public needs to know about or is it a fight between neighbors? Is public safety involved? Is there an inequity going on that needs to be righted? Is it news? Is it something quick or is it investigative? What’s our timeline like?

Not everyone sees it that way of course. Some think we should be cheerleaders. An article, a press release, and a public relations ad is not the same thing. We try — I try — to get to all sides of a story. Not all sides email or call you back though — you go with what you have and who responded and sometimes you don’t go at all.

All journalists have pet peeves. I love tips on some far corner of the county and an interesting story, but I’m not up for mansplaining and demands. My favorite peeve is when people tell me what I should cover — especially when I just covered it last week and they clearly didn’t read otherwise they wouldn’t be ordering me around.

As a writer in general my peeve is people telling me how to write and what to write about. I liken it to me walking into a surgeon’s office and telling her how to do surgery or building my own house instead of hiring a contractor who knows how to do it.

I love this profession. I love being able to give voice to both little things and important things. I love letting people know about the cool things in their own backyard and what is questionable to public safety.

As I write this my journalist office mate, Jane Braxton Little, is in Fukushima covering the after-effects of radiation like she did in Cherynobl a few years back. I am in awe. She’s there in search of a vital and interesting story — one that tells us more about our environment and our humanity.

We journalists are not enemies of the people. We are not part of hoaxes and conspiracies. The best of us try every day to bring forth all that needs to be known in the best ways possible with limited resources.

RIP to Khashoggi and Martinova who died this week for the integrity of real news.

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