What Am I Doing?

I am weary.

It started last Wednesday night, as I sat on my couch, glued to Twitter, following the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri. Arrested reporters, militarized police, borderline media blackout–was this my country? It seemed impossible, and made me wonder why I’m teaching journalism–I was getting my news from Twitter, not from any major news outlet. Major news outlets weren’t reporting it, I suppose because reporting racial unrest is uncomfortable, it doesn’t sell ads, and my inner cynic was sure some corporate owners wanted to control the message. And the next day, as I told colleagues what had happened, I was met with disbelief. It wasn’t on the front page of our local paper, or in the top stories on the local news.

Over the weekend, tweets came in about layoffs at the Indianapolis Star, and a leaked spreadsheet from Time, Inc. reportedly shows that they plan laying off journalists who do not bring in enough ad revenue. Jobs in journalism are so rough these days, partly because the Fourth Estate no longer seems to be about an informed citizenry or keeping the branches of government in check, it’s about money and power and who can jump up and down on a desk long enough to outlast an opponent. Therefore, there’s not a whole lot of job security.

Then yesterday, the news about James Foley–a journalist who had been kidnapped two years ago in Syria, reporting a story that most people weren’t paying attention to (which in hindsight, perhaps we should have been). ISIS got a hold of him and executed him; they threatened to execute another journalist if President Obama did not call off air strikes.

If I’m training some of the country’s next journalists, what exactly am I preparing them for?

Yes, I am weary from the past seven days.

But today, I saw this. And I thought, “maybe there’s hope. Maybe this is progress. Maybe it’s not fruitless to teach journalism.”

Because journalists find stories like these and stick with them. Sometimes they shine a light on what we are doing right.

I know that some of my students, past and present, might say that sports stories are trivial. But this week, I needed this one. I needed to hear this coach speak to his kids in the wake of a loss. I needed sports to redeem not only my faith in humanity, but my faith in journalism.

Because really, at the end of the day, journalism should be about telling stories truthfully: inspiring stories, upsetting stories, stories that remember we are part of the human family, stories that compel us to act. Whether it’s sports or politics or education or business, journalists can illuminate not only what’s wrong, but also what’s right.

And if I can remember that, then I should never really question what I’m preparing my students for:

“Seek truth and report it. Minimize harm. Act independently. Be accountable.”

That’s the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. That’s what I teach. And if I do my job well, then maybe my students will in turn, do their jobs well too.

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