It must be frustrating to find the industry in which you’ve made a living shrinking. Staffs reduced, pay cut, jobs doubled and tripled up as an industry shifts to match a population that suckles at the teat of convenience.
It also must frustrate you to see someone like me abandon AP style.
But as custodians of our nation’s “official” information sources, you have a responsibility. If you want to see your profession not just survive, but thrive, I have a few ideas. You can take them or leave them — after all, I’m just some chick in Colorado. But there are a whole lot of chicks in Colorado. And dudes. And teachers, parents, plumbers, financial advisers, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Hindus, gun owners, Democrats, reproductive rights advocates, Republicans, those of Middle Eastern decent, francophiles, Brits, and ferret owners (and assorted combinations of select designators) who see your position — conveyors of information — as one of strength.
Personally, I’d like you to start seeing yourselves that way once again.
While Twitter might offer up a 6-second video of one of yesterday’s horrific explosions, it’s your profession that is charged with relaying that information. In the race for clicks, pageviews, and traffic, I’ve seen the most trusted news sources with banner three-letter monikers devolve into sensationalized sites catering to this now now now generation’s demand for anything. “Anything — just give us anything,” we cry. But it would be lovely if you told us “no.”
No – we will not capitalize on over-graphic images that would get a Hollywood blockbuster an R-rating.
No – we will not use cultural or nationality indicators when reporting that there is a suspect in custody. Why? Because we know the most important words in those statements are “in” and “custody” as opposed to where one was born or the depth of one’s suntan.
No – we will not bring you unverified information for the sake of being first. We remember that lives are at stake — including those we interview alongside those whom have had their lives changed forever in the face of tragedy.
No – we will not allow you to act that way in the comments sections of our articles. It’s not a free for all on account that you’ve gained access to an internet connection and a keyboard. And yes, we understand that you might not like the news as it’s reported, but we report for you.
No – we won’t offer that bandwidth. When sensationalistic pseudo-pundits like Alex Jones offer shock jock tactics so they can ride the wake of tragedy to advance their own personal agenda, we will not participate. We know that bandwidth is what they want, and we refuse to cave.
You see, the messages that deserve bandwidth are those like Patton Oswalt’s. I’d rather tune in to Upworthy any day than read the please-click-here schlock that drives the website traffic you need to keep your advertisers happy.
If you’re reporting to be first, perhaps your reasons need a reassessment. The greatest achievements in the world as we know it today were never about being first. And in fact, no one’s really ever first outside of a finish line at the Olympics.So perhaps a shift is in order — from the need to be first to the pursuit of being the best.
Being the best is about a long-term commitment to doing better work. That’s what I want from you — better work. I want to see my friends who love journalism and have racked up degrees, clips, and escalations from contributing writer to editor and beyond revel in their career choices. And perhaps it’s masochistic, but I adore them for laying into me with their pointed red pens.
They make me a better writer. A better storyteller. And since those two acts are what bring me the greatest joy, their editorial skills also make me a better person.
Better. We can all do better. My friends can once again revel in their career choices when public perception of the media shifts back to a place of trust. That can only happen if you start telling us “no.”
We can do better with how we treat the stories of others, as people like us (though I’m not a journalist) are the ones trusted with sharing those stories with the world. As someone who loves the power of stories as much as I do — I ask:
Will you commit do doing better?
Little angers me more than people who confuse conjecture with proven by due process, clicks with credibility, and a platform with plausibility. Those who assign guilt and blame to the whole of a population (nationality, religion, gender, political affiliation) based on the actions by a fraction. And I feel it’s a goddamn shame that you can buy a vowel on the Wheel of Fortune, but when fortune bites us in the ass, we can’t buy a dose of humanity or compassion.
You are the voice of compassion, hard truths, and the lens which shows us sights we never wanted to see. If we don’t hear what needs hearing and see what we couldn’t without your daring eyes, we’re doomed to unravel. But even worse, we’re doomed to forget.
So I ask: will you help us learn, encourage us to listen, and remind us that there is a story behind each face, bloodstain, horrific incident, gun owner, Muslim family, and child’s smile?
It would be better. I believe that people are truly good, and that you — our media — have the power to remind us of that when the bit of evil that lives in the hearts of mankind boils over and brings about the unthinkable.
Thanks for your time, and for being fellow storytellers in pursuit of better stories.