But the challenges we face can move the future of the profession in a positive direction.
Journalism faces substantial hurdles in the years ahead. But with each crisis the profession faces, an opportunity exists that can make it, and the world it reports on, better.
I’ve been a journalist for several years now, mostly penning opinion pieces but dabbling in unbiased news reporting from time-to-time as well. My career has spanned a period of time that saw the industry transition, uneasily, from print to digital media.
Before I get to that, it might help for you to know my story. For as long as I can recall, I’ve been writing.
I taught myself HTML so that I could make websites when I was a teenager. I wrote fan-fiction in grade school about some of my favorite characters from movies. But it wasn’t until I was a full-fledged adult that I got interested in political journalism.
In 2003 I was a senior in high school. The run-up to the war in Iraq was heating up, and some of my peers decided to stage a protest in solidarity with others happening across the nation.
Being an exceptional student of history, I knew that the rationale behind the war didn’t make sense, so I joined in the protest. I was belittled by others for doing so, especially by my fellow students who supported then-President George W. Bush. People said I was “dumb,” or that the protest was only happening because we wanted to skip class. One person even questioned my patriotism, suggesting my historical knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s and Saddam Hussein’s past meant I had terrorist-sympathizer leanings, whatever that meant.
It really hit me at that moment that the “other side” had no idea why I and so many others had opposed the idea of war. I wanted to change that.
When I moved onto college, I wrote several letters to the editor to my student newspaper. At one point, the managing editor, who was a conservative, threw up his arms and said, “Why don’t you just write for us as a staff writer?”
I have been writing about politics ever since, on small blogs, community web pages, and national news sites. I have seen modest success in doing so, bringing an informed and often opinionated debate to the masses for them to consider.
Unfortunately, there are far too many people who still don’t understand the issues fully, and the advent of social media isn’t making things any easier.
Today’s journalists face a difficult landscape, where a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other media posting sways or reinforces more opinions than do the local newspaper op-ed pages. Full thought and consideration on a topic is being replaced by sound bytes and block lettering. What’s worse, our political leaders are tapping into this phenomenon as well, and not always in an accurate or positive way.
Until recently, it was understood that journalists’ relationships with leaders, particularly with the president of the United States, was a “push-pull” one. You couldn’t “come at” the president as hard as you might like because then he might never let you ask another question again. At the same time, journalists had a duty to put pressure on our leaders, to make them feel uncomfortable at times so they could get the truth out of them. There was a certain respect, felt on both sides, about the duties and privileges afforded to journalists.
The current occupant of the White House has changed this in significant ways. His attacks on journalists, his insistence on labeling those he doesn’t like as “fake news,” and most alarming, his condemnation of this profession as the “enemy of the people,” should worry us all.
The president is well within his rights to deny or challenge the reporting of those who cover him. What is problematic, however, is the demonization of those who have the gall to question his statements, to point out his lies, or to report on the happenings going on within his administration, whether obtained by confidential sources or public documents.
I’ve already lived through one period of time where my patriotism has been wrongly questioned, so I’ve built a thick skin against such attacks. I’m not afraid to point out the errant opinions and statements made by this or any other political leader. Such social “checks” on lawmakers or other figures are necessary for society to flourish, and it’s incumbent on journalists across the nation to keep the pressure on during this troubling era of American politics.
Sadly, journalism as a profession is struggling in other ways, and it’s not just because of social media or due to a president that views newshounds as the “enemy.” The internet is still a relatively young phenomenon, and newspapers across the country continue to fail in finding ways to adapt to it. Headlines on a weekly basis highlight how digital newsrooms are cutting back staff, which comes at a huge cost to the public: the loss in potential stories those talented journalists could have covered were they still employed by those organizations.
But during such times of anxiety, we can take note of the things that are problematic, and find ways to change for the better. The issues that we see in Washington today are exposing deep fissures in our democracy, some of which can be prevented from happening again in the future if we’re willing to do the hard work to make it so. Reforms to our government processes and resistance to objectionable measures being carried out by this administration and others must be made known, and what’s more, countered against by those able to speak out.
We can also find ways to make journalism on the internet work. We can make improvements where others have failed, and determine a sustainable way in which people can continue to receive information from newsrooms that is imperative for them to know and understand.
A journalist’s work is often thankless — people assume that reporting on the issues will always happen, but behind every story is a person who did the work to get it to your computer or phone screen.
Thankless though it is, a journalist’s work provides great value, whether to a small community or to a broader set of readers across the nation.
I’m excited to be a part of this mission with VozWire, to continue on the next step of journalism as it continues to try and figure out this digital age. This site aims to be the turning point of media for the web, and I’m thrilled to have a hand in it. I invite you to check back often, to read all of the writers’ works on this site, and to continue to support journalism in the years ahead.
Your support, of this site and others, may well be the key factor in ensuring our democracy’s survival.
Featured image credit: Eric Bailey/Wikimedia