I returned to journalism, now as a news director at a local public radio station.
It sure is a strange new world.
I teach journalism. For most of my entire adult life, I practiced journalism. I still write.
One of the first things I tell my students in my journalism classes is that, as societies transition from closed to open, from autocratic/oppressive to democratic/free, one of the first things to emerge is a free press. It might not be in the forms of printed newspapers or broadcast television, but there will be a vibrant and growing movement to inform the populace and to keep an eye on the behavior of those in charge.
The converse is also true. When a society transitions from open to closed, from democratic/free to autocratic/oppressive, the first thing to feel the pressure and to be constrained is a free press. Autocracy needs isolation and secrecy. Dictators thrive on darkness like mushrooms in shit.
Never in my lifetime did I think I would see it apply here. But isn’t that always the case? We take what we have for granted, never imagining the house will catch fire and destroy the value.
For my entire professional life, I put my name on every word I wrote. Every investigation, every quote, every single solitary pixel or ink drop, was under my name. It was the same name with which I signed my checks, served on my parish council, and written on the mail in the mailbox.
Rebecca S. Green
With that name came two decades worth of skills honed interviewing, listening, watching, observing. I covered mass shootings, interviewed survivors in their hospital rooms, watched bodies pulled from wreckage, digested and explained hours of complicated court testimony in trials ranging from religious freedom cases to dead babies.
I lost sleep over mistakes I made. I called sources to apologize. I worried daily about whether I made the right calls to the right people, had the right information put together in the right way, and whether I had everything I needed.
I badgered prosecutors who were mishandling cases. I chased files through court hallways. I ran up and down stairs to find officials who were literally hiding from me. I shivered in the cold at scenes and took cover alongside police officers at standoffs. I waded through flood water to listen to victims to find out what needs they had. I didn’t vote for candidates whom I would be likely to cover to remove all question of impropriety or bias.
I did all that for the citizens of the communities I covered. I did this because the average citizen cannot drop everything to go sit in the county commissioners’ meeting, scheduled for the middle of the work day. The average person doesn’t know what questions to ask about why their tax bills are going up. And I was the one who told them their tax bills were going up.
I took calls from people accusing me of trying to ruin their lives. I took calls from people thanking me for changing them.
I was a journalist.
And I was not alone.
Everything I did, I did as part of a team, of men and women who did the same thing I did, with the same standards under which I functioned. We took it seriously. We sacrificed making more money in other jobs because we believed what we did was important to the health of our community and the safety of our democracy.
We were right.
So are the men and women who do this every day at the newspapers in the major cities, the television stations who provide you with your evening news.
Decades ago, we as a culture had a shared set of facts. You got your evening news from one of the major networks, and the flavor was in the accent of the anchor. Your newspaper was filled with the same wire services, and we all agreed on what was going on around us.
Corporate carnivores significantly weakened this model, and an obvious propaganda arms of one wing of our two-party system injected a virus (I’m looking at you FOXNews).
But true journalists persisted.
And they will.
They are not the opposition party. They are your friends. They are your eyes and ears, your voice. They are writing the first draft of history, sometimes in a tweet or in an instant.
Is it perfect? No. But it is made more complicated by an openly hostile government which refuses to answer questions, to return calls, and then misconstrues the very basic nature of the discussion. The government is telling you that water is not wet, that the sun comes up in the west, and that facts have an alternative.
Facts are facts. Water is wet in its liquid form, which it will eventually get to when it touches your skin. The sun will come up in the east every day.
Protect your journalists, for they are your right under the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
They will protect you.