I never wanted to be a journalist.
When I selected my double majors of English and journalism as a college freshman one million years ago, it was because I knew I wanted to be a “writer,” but I had zero clue what that meant. And since I couldn’t major in “Fanciful Scribbling in Journals and Typing Half-Stories Into a Word Processor,” I chose the two majors that, on paper, sounded like I would spend most of my time creatively introverting.
And then journalism kicked my ass.
Because, 19-year-old self, journalism is not writing. Journalism is truth-seeking. Journalism is a deep caring for fairness. For others. For our future.
Journalism is hard.
Today, I am so incredibly grateful for my time spent hating journalism class in college for many reasons. But the main reason? Because it gave me a new sense of respect and regard for real journalists — individuals who are not only driven by a desire to tell a story, but also an innate need to report on what matters.
In those classes, I learned what a vital, yet often unappreciated, role journalists play in a democracy; how deep and truthful reporting can topple regimes and save lives. How Woodward and Bernstein, Cronkite and Walters and Rather are more than just our reporters — they’re our champions. The sheer magnitude of how much we, the public, rely on their work, their thankless tenacity, is astounding.
And today, these real journalists have a real problem.
Their jobs are impossible, yet we need them now more than ever before. We need to support them so that they can support us. We need their help so that we can continue to learn the facts (not the alternative ones).
When the people appointed to brief the press and the public are also the people trying to keep us from the truth, we need journalists to stand up and ask why. When officials tell us things happened that didn’t, when they report numbers that don’t add up, we need journalists to do the digging and do the math.
If you have been obsessively reading the news like I have, and you think fake news is a big problem, consider supporting reporting that makes an impact. There are many ways that we can help journalists help us:
Yes, we live in an online world. Yes, we can grab most headlines from Facebook. But where do those headlines come from (the good, non-clickbaity ones anyway)? Trustworthy news outlets. And without subscribers and advertisers, those publications won’t be able to fill our feeds with articles that we can then passive-aggressively share with our uninformed friends and families.
Right now, many newspapers and magazines are offering deeply discounted subscriptions. I recently subscribed to the New York Times digital edition for a reasonable cost (worth it for the daily mini-crossword puzzle alone). And I snagged Vanity Fair and Teen Vogue for $5/year each. (Yes, Teen Vogue. If you haven’t read any of their kick-ass feminist reporting lately, you’re missing out.)
You can also support online-only news outlets, radio shows, and podcasts with both your wallet and your eyeballs. Because advertising is often critical to their revenue, every click, read, listen, and share makes them a bigger draw for sponsors. And some online publications, such as NPR and the online politics-and-more magazine Slate, offer options to support their causes through donations and memberships with benefits.
So if there’s a publication you really enjoy or admire, consider paying for it. Help make sure it sticks around.
Support the free press by supporting the organizations and nonprofits devoted to keeping it safe.
Need some examples? ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. The Marshall Project is a nonprofit news organization that aims to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice. The Poynter Institute teaches and supports “anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens in 21st century democracies” (think: journalists, teachers, students, the public).
Awesome, right? We need all of those, right? So check them out, and if you’re so inclined, throw some money their way.
Like, for real. Don’t just read the headlines and get all pissed off. Read the articles. Spend some time deep in the stories. Check the validity of the sources. How? Use the CRAAP Test. (I’m serious; it’s a set of criteria for evaluating information developed by librarians at California State University, Chico.)
– Currency: How timely is the information?
– Relevance: Is the information important and appropriate to the topic?
– Authority: What are the author’s credentials and qualifications?
– Accuracy: Where does the information come from? Is it supported by evidence?
– Purpose: What is reason this information exists? Is it fact, opinion or propaganda?
There are too many people who are so eager to share articles that support their worldview that they don’t care about truth or fact — don’t be one of them. It’s time for all of us to do our homework.
Stay informed. Stay woke. And help a journalist out.