Back in high school, when I was even more of a cub reporter than I am now, I could not understand why more people did not want to be journalists. For me, there was nothing quite like getting to hear people from all walks of life share their stories or sitting down to write an article after the adrenaline rush from an interview began to gradually wear off. As my fingers, still jittery, danced over each other on the keyboard, the stories came to life, establishing permanence with every jab of a key.
On my first day of ninth-grade journalism, my adviser told me something I still recall anytime I set up an interview, fueling my appreciation for story telling through the journalistic craft.
He said everyone wears a mask, often several different ones depending on the social setting they are in. As a reporter, I get to peel those masks off to find the people and stories lurking beneath.
Sixteen and on top of the world, I did not let my friends and relatives deflate my eager bubble when they told me that I was wasting my talents on a useless field, chasing after people’s stories when I should have been creating my own.
Honestly, I cannot think of a more worthy field to waste my life on.
Although I have my fair share of bones to pick with modern journalism, particularly with the displacement of hard news with “infotainment,” nothing gets me more peeved than having to hear and watch journalists take flak from both the public and, ironically, those in the different forms of media.
Don’t get me wrong — some criticism is needed. It keeps us on our toes and in check; however, watch any particular television show and more likely than not an actor portraying a reporter will come off as a hungry, desperate parasite looking for scoop, even when it means destroying lives.
What many people fail to understand, including many journalists themselves, is that true reporters serve the public by providing them with information they would not get otherwise and by acting as watchdogs of governments.
We are not there because we like to harass people, nor are we there to get something out of it, other than crap pay, sleep deprivation, retorts and red marks from a grumpy editor, and backlash from people who, upon hearing what they really sound like, blame us for “spinning” their words.
As much as I love the steely-eyed silver fox, Anderson Cooper, “celebrity journalism” has tainted the profession, with anchors’ superficial smiles, bleached teeth and even more bleached, scripted lines taking the meat out of news and feeding negative stereotypes.
When chugging on my morning coffee and flipping through the channels, I no longer linger on the popular news stations, for it feels more like watching a talk show or a gathering with exceptionally well-dressed and pretty people than it does a quality news source.
At the age of 20, I now understand why journalism has lost the revere and respect it held when reporters like Lincoln Steffens, Walter Cronkite, and Edward R. Murrow graced the industry. I share the public’s frustration when they crave real, significant news but instead receive stories about dogs getting skin-lifts or the biased, one-sided rants of Fox News or MSNBC.
However, there are reporters out there who do their jobs, often risking their well-being and their lives to bring the public news. Those are the professionals who we should be calling journalists, not the dolled-up performing monkeys who read whatever is handed to them or chase whatever celebrity will get them the biggest exposure.
In 1999, American reporter Marie Colvin was credited for saving countless lives while on the job in East Timor. In 2001, she lost her eye to a Sri Lankan rocket-propelled grenade. Then, in 2012, she lost her life while reporting in Syria.
A month prior, French journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed by rocket fire during a pro-government rally in the same country. Before his death in Syria, Jacquier had reported from other war zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, and the Congo.
Cooper himself has taken many risks while reporting from war zones in Somalia, Bosnia, and Egypt. In 2011, he and his crew were attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters.
According to the Associated Press, 70 journalists died while on the job in 2013.
These reporters create their stories by giving voice to people all over the world. They are who the modern journalist should strive to emulate and what the public should expect from its watchdogs.