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Oh, to be a journalist
A love letter to readers and a pledge to the power of journalism
To be a journalist is to give a voice to the voiceless. To be a journalist is to tell those important stories that shape social change. To be a journalist is to bridge the gap between the public and those in power. To be a journalist is to hold those in power to a standard the public expects — to put pen to paper when corruption sneaks its way into office; and to knock on the doors of our leaders, demanding accountability. In today’s world, with so much misinformation spreading online and local newspapers being shut down across the country, being a journalist is no easy feat. But it shouldn’t be. Not if we do our job correctly — and that job is to remain loyal to the public while always serving as a watchdog over those in power, bearing witness to important developments that affect us all.
The practice of journalism has immense power — power to foster change that might not be able to happen without the dissemination of information en masse that requires our elected leaders and us as citizens to step up to the plate. As a journalist, I believe in the ethical principles of accuracy and fairness in reporting with a loyalty to the public — principles I hold scared. Today, anyone can write anything and post it for the world to see. But oftentimes, there’s a barrier for some to critically understand and identify credible storytelling in today’s media — what we journalists call media literacy.
Now, the art of the written word is a practice as old as Sumerian archaic writing in 3400 B.C., telling stories about the important conditions of life to protect those who came after them. I am a journalist, because I believe in the importance of giving voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless — those who are silenced or ignored, even forgotten, often have the best stories. Change starts with the people, demanding that those in positions of power hear the voice of the masses. Now that people have such widespread avenues to sharing their opinion or drawing attention to social issues that affect them, it may feel as if journalism is less important — but that couldn't be further from the truth. Journalism lends credibility to these voices, as journalists themselves are the tools that can bridge the gap between the public and the powerful to ensure the stories told are effective and true. For the public’s voice can be heard if we as journalists provide the context for those voices to rise up by reporting on the actions and behavior of those in power.
What concerns me is the folding of local news. Across the nation, so-called news deserts — places with limited access to local news — are springing up more and more frequently. Over one-fifth of Americans now live in a news desert, according to a 2022 Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative report. A quarter of all newspapers in the United States have closed since 2005 — a number that’s only looking to grow as projections from the same reports show, “the country is set up to lose one-third of its newspapers by 2025. And in many places, the surviving local media outlets have made major cuts to staff and circulation.” As a result, the disparity between those with access to high-quality news and those who lack that access is growing from investments on larger markets in local journalism.
“What that does is it feeds into a nation that is divided journalistically, and when you have a nation divided journalistically, it exacerbates our political, cultural and economic divisions,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Medill and the principal author of the report. “This is a crisis for our democracy and our society. Invariably, the economically struggling, traditionally underserved communities that need local journalism the most are the very places where it is most difficult to sustain print or digital news organizations.”
As we move into the new year, I applaud you readers for continuing to support your local newspaper and urge you to encourage others — or perhaps even share your subscription with those who don’t have access (something my superiors might be a little upset about, but informing the public is of paramount importance in the newspaper business). Personally, I am a journalist because I believe in social justice. I believe in the power I have to hold those in power accountable for their actions and their policies. I believe in the power I have as a journalist to humanize the people those in power affect when they make decisions at the local and national level. I believe in the power I have as a journalist to give the voiceless the space to speak their experience, their story, giving them the power to change the narrative. When we as journalists practice this, practice the art of storytelling and partake in a loyalty to truth, we bring people together, adding a little more humanity to the world day by day.
And what I believe in more is the power each one of you has. For without you, we journalists wouldn’t be here, struggling to get to the root of problems and uncover scandals or bring people together in a shared effort to foster effective change — the list goes on. So, thank you. And please keep supporting your local journalists.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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