Those of who toiled as journalists — whether print or broadcast — have been forced to cope with the perception that the public hasn’t thought too much of us and the work we do.
There was a longstanding joke in the old days that reporters and used-car sales reps battled it out for the bottom spot on the public opinion totem pole.
These days, we now have the president of the United States tossing dung on top of reporters, calling them the “enemy of the people,” accusing them of outright dishonesty, suggesting they conspire to make up “fake news” and peddle it as the real thing.
Man, it’s even tougher these days to do the job I did for nearly 37 years.
I recently made the acquaintance of two young reporters for the Amarillo Globe-News, my final stop along my lengthy journalism journey — which ended on Aug. 31, 2012. They are both earnest and eager young reporters. I don’t know this as fact, but my sense is that the AGN is their first job out of college.
It’s a different type of profession now than it was when I got pointed in that direction way back when, before The Flood, or so it seems.
I never considered myself to be anyone’s “enemy.” My desire was to make a difference in the world and to chronicle events in my community and report them to the public. I spent most of my career in opinion journalism, but many of the principles that apply to reporting — such as fairness and accuracy — surely applied.
That was in the early 1970s. I had just finished a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army. I came home in the late summer of 1970, settled in with Mom and Dad and prepared to re-enroll in college the following January.
One evening, at dinner with my parents, Dad asked me if I had considered what my college major should be. I said I hadn’t thought it through. He asked, “Have you considered journalism?” I asked him, “Why that?”
He complimented me on the letters I wrote from Virginia and Vietnam, where I had served during my time in the Army. He called them “descriptive” and said he would share them with family members and friends. He thought journalism would be a good fit, enabling me to put my writing ability to good use.
“Sure thing, Dad,” I said. “I’ll consider that.” I did. I enrolled. I signed up for some mass communications classes. The bug bit me in the rear and, by golly, I was hooked. Of course, I learned right away that journalism isn’t just about whether one can write clearly; one needs to be able to learn how to gather information and determine its importance to the public.
I wonder today how many parents are having that kind of discussion with their college-bound children. I wonder if moms and dads are telling their kids to pursue this craft. Or have they bought into the tripe being peddled by the president that to be a reporter is to declare war on “the people,” to be their “enemy.”
For that matter, did those two young reporters I met recently whether they got that kind of pep talk from Mom or Dad at the dinner table.
The craft is changing rapidly. Newspapers are emphasizing their “digital content.” They are becoming — to borrow a distasteful term — “click whores” that are more interested in how many people click on their websites than in the number of people purchasing a newspaper.
I do wish all young reporters the very best as they seek to make their own way in this changing — and increasingly hostile — climate.