Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bottom line, journalists are the last line of defense

It was sometime in October when I was sent back to do a follow-up on the oil spill. Only this time we didn't go near the beach; it was a town meeting for people who hadn't received any money from BP or Ken Feinberg.

We were setting up our gear when a woman walked up to me and gave me a hug. "Thank you for coming," she said. "You're all we've got left."

That statement really hit me. At that moment, I knew we were the last line of defense between the people who had suffered so much and those who controlled a check book that could save their lives.

It's times like these that define what you are. If you can walk away from something like that and just consider it another package on another day, get out of this business. Now. If you realize that you can help in your own small way and change the world for some people, then you can stay.

If you covered a car wreck today, or a murder, or a fire, then journalism really didn't enter into your day. Yes, I know, it was your assignment, and that's what your station does, but I could pull any guy off the street and teach him to ask a question of a fireman or a cop.

If you spent time digging up illegal activities by a politician (without bias, of course) and held said politician's feet to the fire, then you're a reporter. If you took time on the phone to point a caller who needed help in the right direction, then did a story to help others with the same problem, you're a reporter. If you learned of an injustice and brought it to light, you're a reporter. If you kept an eye on a situation that needed a follow-up, you're a reporter.

I can't tell you how many times I picked up a newsroom phone and heard, "I didn't know who else to call." While people don't necessarily trust those in our profession, they know we have the ability and the clout to right wrongs when necessary.

We have incredible clout in this business, but sadly, we often waste it chasing the scanner and doing stories that are obvious time fillers.

If you're going to play defense for the public, you can't do it sitting on the bench.



Anonymous said...

Love this post. I got into this business to make a difference, but my boss prefers scanner chasing. Any tips on how to make my shop bearable until I can move-on somewhere better?

-The Grape said...

Well, even scanner chasing can bring positive change if you look hard enough.

-Why did a judge put a three time drunk driver back on the road... and are there legislators who want to do something about changing the law?

-A kid burns his house down playing with matches... does the fire department have a school visit program?

-A man goes postal with an assault rifle.... how easy is it to buy one, and what laws are in place to prevent it from happening again?

Remember to look beyond the basic facts, and consider other points of view. Then you'll find some valuable stories. (Until you get to a place that doesn't chase the scanner.)

Jobless said...

Thank you so much for this post. It reassures me that I'm on the right path!