Local Edition: Here's why journalists stay in the business
This was originally published in our weekly newsletter, Local Edition, which is a product of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative. Subscribe here.
Have you ever had a party and looked around the room at some point and thought, Wow, there are a lot of cool people here? Well, that’s how my inbox felt this week.
Thanks to everyone who contributed last week by answering our first question in this ongoing conversation about local news: “Why are you still a journalist?”
I'm a journalist because I love the work. I’m still a journalist because I’ve found editors who have let me also have time and flexibility to raise kids.
OK, I don’t want to make you stand in the doorway any longer. Come in and meet the rest of the party. (Some answers have been edited for length. Also, stick around until the end to see what we have planned for next week.)
Let’s start with some laughs:
"I could never give up the money, great hours, or prestige,” Andrew Beaujon, senior editor, Washingtonian, Washington, D.C.
"Because I didn't know ‘space lawyer’ was a legitimate career path until only recently,” Alex Fitzpatrick, lifestyle editor, Time, New York City, (he was joking, but that is a solid plan B.)
"It's indoor work and no heavy lifting. Also, I occasionally get paid to ride around in a boat. Also you occasionally get to ask politicians rude questions like, ‘Did you take a free trip to Texas from Big Sugar?’” Craig Pittman, environmental reporter, Tampa Bay Times, Florida
For some of you, getting to tell stories is the reason you’ve stuck around:
"I want to help people tell their stories. I think empathy makes the world better, and the more we know about other people's stories, the more empathetic people will be and that will make the world better,” Chao Li, product manager, emerging platforms, Group Nine Media, New York City
"After owning a bar for 20 years, I got into newspaper journalism in 1999 because I wanted to learn how to write. I quit my full-time newspaper job in 2015. There are times I regret the move from a full-time job. I had a chance to let readers know what went on in their neighborhoods and how it touched them. The urge to report the facts and shape them into a story has not left me. I plan on finding a way to contribute. I have no aspirations of making a difference unless the action came from presenting the facts,” Pete Skiba, writer, Cocoa Beach, Florida
"I'm still a journalist because I can't find anything that matches that feeling of telling people something they don't know. I still love watching people's reactions when you tell them the story behind the headline, and the sensation of people leaning forward when hearing or watching a story, just waiting to hear how it ends,” Melissa Luck, assistant news director, KXLY, Spokane, Washington
"I find it rewarding to be able to connect with people and help them tell their stories. Especially as a visual journalist, I find that it is empowering for people to not only have their stories told but for people to be able to see/visually connect with the people in the piece. I think in our internet/social-driven consumption cycle, it's important for audiences to see our subjects as real people so that they can empathize,” Emma Patti Harris, senior visuals content editor, The Baltimore Sun, Maryland
"I love telling stories,” Omar Mohammed, International Center for Journalists Knight Fellow, reporter, Bloomberg in Tanzania
"When I was growing up in Detroit, I couldn't stand to watch broadcast news with my family, because I felt it didn't mirror the city I saw. While I didn't care for TV news, I loved magazines. My grandparents subscribed to JET, Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise, but my mother favored XXL, The Source, Vibe and Rolling Stone. I grew up internalizing images of beautiful Black figures. I always loved to read and write stories, so when it when it came for me to pick a career, I chose to be a journalist. Now that I'm based in Chicago, another city which needs more contextual coverage, my goal is to write stories with nuance, not slanting too far into one point of view. I'm still a features reporter because we need that nuance. In a media environment where there's so much information constantly coming at readers, the need for deep, thoughtful, contextualized reporting is important for understanding the world around you,” Tatiana Walk-Morris, freelance journalist, Illinois
[caption id="attachment_450573" align="alignleft" width="1000"] (Tatiana Walk-Morris, photo by Martin Macias)[/caption]
For some, it’s about community.
"Journalism — to me — is a passion. I'm committed to my role — as insignificant as it may sometimes seem to be in a town of only 5,000 people. Without our news organization, our community's elected officials would be able to make decisions with very little input from residents. I am often the only member of the public at a meeting. I've seen the impact my work can have. Not just on shaping public policy, but on individuals who've trusted me to tell their deeply personal stories. I see a newspaper (or other news outlet) as the web that ties a community together. We have the power (and the platform) to tell the stories that show our neighbors how interconnected we all are,” Sara Baranowski, editor, Times Citizen, Iowa Falls, Iowa
"The reason I'm still a journalist is the reason I became one — it's my way to help the world be a better place. It's the best combination of my talents and my aspirations I could think of. At its best, journalism lifts up the voices of the unheard, helps people discover each other and cements a sense of community. It connects. It helps. It reflects our human experience. It elicits joy. It uncovers.” Kelsey Proud, managing editor, digital, WAMU, Washington, D.C.
"I'm a reporter because I care about this place. I care about this city, about this university, and about all the people in our community. I believe local reporters are members of the community first; that they are guardians, advocates, watchdogs for the people. I want to be that for my city, to be a person that people know will listen to them, will keep them informed, and will represent the community not as some faceless 'media' boogeyman but as a person, a fellow citizen and community member,” Scott Berson, editor in chief, The Saber, Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia
[caption id="attachment_450574" align="aligncenter" width="1600"] (Scott Berson, standing, leads a news meeting at The Saber, submitted photo)[/caption]
But here’s the answer I heard the most: Because journalism.
“It’s hard to just shake something off when it’s felt like a calling (for lack of a better term) from a young age. Even if the future doesn’t always look bright, I still want to work in journalism. I’m young, and while I’m told I’m entering a dying field (print is the preference, but TV is great, too), I don’t care. I know that there will always be a demand to know what’s going on in the world, and I want to be a part of that,” Michelle Doeden, content editor, KMSP, Minneapolis, Minnesota
"I'm still a journalist because I believe in supporting, promoting and clarifying the invaluable work of reporters,” Nick Parker, copy desk chief, Salt Lake Tribune, Utah
"I really love helping people navigate the world. I love finding and telling stories and connecting people together,” Melody Kramer, columnist, Poynter, Carrboro, North Carolina
"I'm still here because we have to reinvent the business model for local news to survive and thrive,” Tony Elkins, deputy managing editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Florida
"I cannot think of a single thing I would rather do as a career. Journalistic work is important. Telling stories is the most fundamental way of sharing information and connecting with others. I believe that it is also our mission to listen. Journalism empowers me to listen and share. Every day, I try to see the world from a slightly different perspective than I did the day before. Without reading, hearing and watching the stories of others, I'm not sure that would be possible,” Hannah Wise, engagement editor, Dallas Morning News, Texas
"I fell in the love with the job. I believe in my work and I believe that journalism is so important. I like being surrounded by smart people and working together to make things,” Joseph Cranney, reporter, Naples Daily News, Florida
"Why am I still a journalist? Because I can't imagine doing anything else. Although my last byline was in 2014, I still work in journalism as a product manager. The work I do helps support the journalists still in the field by ensuring that they have the right platforms and tools to tell their stories. To me, there is still so much integrity and purpose in the work we do,” Gina Falcone-Rupp, senior manager, product, McClatchy, Raleigh, North Carolina
This answer from Jennie Key, Community Editor for the Northwest Press, a Gannett weekly publication in Cincinnati, Ohio, wraps it all up:
"We were bought by the daily in our city about 10 years ago, and I am still on a suburban beat, covering the community where I started my news writing career. There is no other job I would rather have.
"I didn’t stay for the money (or leave for the lack of it). I stayed because I love what I do. I help people understand the community in which they live and give them information they need to make life decisions, from where they buy a house and their kids go to school to where they go to eat or see a movie. I love helping them figure out how to make where they live a better place. I enjoy learning new technology and new platforms to share those stories.
"The only constant in the job has been change. (I started with a typewriter and used to carry a sack of change for pay phones.)
"The work remains the same:
· Be accurate.
· Dig deep.
· Listen well.
· Remain fair.
· Tell stories truthfully."
[caption id="attachment_450575" align="aligncenter" width="1808"] (Jennie Key and her grandkids, submitted photo)[/caption]
Thanks for hanging out with me again this week, everyone! Next week is boss week, and I’ll be talking with someone you’ve already met here today, Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Tony Elkins. I’m interested in why he’s still in journalism, but also what he thinks local bosses need to do to keep local journalism viable. Lots more to come from him next week, but trust that anyone who can make The Washington Post’s new motto metal is going to be good for a chat.
If you’d like to be part of this newsletter’s week one discussion featuring local journalists, let me know. I’m taking names.
Correction: It's Joseph Cranney with a C, not K. People with K names should know better. We apologize for the error.