It has been... a couple of years, to say the least
Rarely does the classroom truly prepare you for any profession, but never could I have imagined the state of the world in 2022 when I stepped foot onto the University of North Texas campus nearly a decade ago. While studying journalism, I learned to write, use a camera, conduct an interview and our industry's guiding ethics. What I never learned was to handle the extreme toll the job can have on a person.
Now, I want to preface this all by saying if I had to do it all over again, I would absolutely still choose journalism. I love my job, and I'm passionate about what I do. I also want to stress that I'm only speaking from my experience as a journalist. Everyone has a lived experience, we're all struggling right now. And every profession has its challenges, that's to say nothing of our first responders and medical professionals.
But for a minute, I want to share my reflections on being a journalist during a time where our country is divided, trust in the press is at an all-time low, and the world is faced with multiple global challenges.
Think about what we've all lived through
First, there was a global pandemic. While this could be an entire blog post on its own, hour-to-hour coverage happened despite rapid changes to our own industry concerning how we would continue delivering the news. At a time where we were just as uncertain, and scared, as everyone else.
Then there was the murder of George Floyd, and the social justice movement that followed (another blog post in and of itself). This was a nationwide movement, and journalists covered the protests, court proceedings and challenges to the state of policing for months on end. When Daniel Prude was killed after being taken into custody by police in Rochester, I worked eight nights in a row covering protests, some of my colleagues worked even more. I was hit with pepper balls, inhaled tear gas, and was there in the middle of tense encounters between protestors and police.
After that summer and Prude in the fall, it was time for the Presidential Election. Two months later, the January 6th insurrection. 2021 had a record number of homicides in Rochester (81), while the rest of the country also experienced record levels of violence.
Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Buffalo mass shooting, where a white supremacist killed 10 unarmed Black grocery shoppers. A week later, 19 elementary students and two of their teachers. Killed.
And just this past week, the Supreme Court reversed a historic precedent by overturning Roe v Wade.
Regardless of how you feel politically about any of this, I think we can all admit it has been nonstop. It feels overwhelming, heavy - bleak even. Most people turn to social media as an outlet to vent. Others might get into activism. First responders have unions, and politicians have press releases. If you have the luxury, you can even bury your head in the sand and turn off the cable box. Unplug from social media.
But what is a journalist allowed to do?
We can't just turn off the news - we live in the news! And we can't (or shouldn't) vent on social media for the same reason we can't (or shouldn't) pursue politics or activism. As a journalist, we're supposed to be fair, impartial and not take a stance. And that's the rub. Because we're not machines telling the news, we're human beings. I have thoughts and feelings on everything I listed above and more, as do all my wonderfully professional colleagues.
And I'm a white male. What about my Black, female or other minority colleagues who have to walk an even more delicate line between being human and professional, when the headlines impact them even more? I can't imagine.
We are a voice for the voiceless, yet must remain silent ourselves. We provide the facts so society can make informed opinions, while keeping our own opinions out of it. We aren't thanked liked first responders, nor do any of us want to be. We do it because it's vital to our free society. Because that's what it means to be an observer, on the forefront of history.
But even still, I'm tired. And I'm not okay.
But I will be.
It's okay to admit you're not okay. I think it's certainly healthier than pretending everything is alright. And I have my coping mechanisms. My colleagues and I often like to check out the amazing craft brewery scene here in the Finger Lakes. I can escape into my world of Wis' Apothecary and write, or play video games with my friends back in Texas.
I make sure to check in with my loved ones, and take time to disconnect and rest on the weekends. We all should. And though things might seem bleak right now, think of all the other dark periods of human history we (and other journalists), have overcome. This storm too, shall pass.
But if you're not a journalist...
With all that said, this isn't a post to garner sympathy. There's no pity party to see here. Again, I would pursue journalism again in a heartbeat, and in fact, 77% of my colleagues agree. But if you know a journalist, check in on them. Ask how they're doing, or offer an ear or shoulder.
And just as importantly, do us a favor: pay attention. Don't bury your head in the sand just because you can. Use the facts and information we're able to provide you to take a stand, and push for change. Consume that information responsibly, and from the right places, but don't look away. We can't make history, we can only record it. So while we're doing what we can, the rest is up to you.
But we can only do it together.
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time!