We’ve become the object of hate. Perhaps, we always were. Michael Schudson, a sociologist and historian of news media, confirms in his research a history of popular violence against journalists. Namely, violence against abolitionist newspapers before the Civil War and Black journalists. History seems to be repeating itself because the haters have become more emboldened. It’s troubling to see a profession of people so integral to the democracy of America consistently berated for doing their job.
The work of a journalist is often challenging —the days are long, the odd hour work shifts tamper with your circadian rhythm, the anxiety inducing pressure to meet tight deadlines and crank out multiple stories (for multiple platforms) is enough to make anyone come unhinged; but, we pack away the parts of the job that might make us question our calling. We show up with a willingness to tell stories knowing our work serves a larger public purpose.
That’s why when I see the words “Murder the Media” sprawled across a door of the Capitol, likely written by the shaky hands of an insurrectionist with poor penmanship, my heart can’t help but ache. I never thought I’d see the day a disgruntled mob calls for the death of my colleagues. It isn’t okay. Journalists are essential workers, too, but so often we’re treated as anything but.
It’s mind boggling. People love to be informed, they love knowing, but they’re also quick to discredit and discard the informer, the journalist bearing witness.
Media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, with The Washington Post writes:
“In recent months, journalists across the country have proven their worth daily with crucial reporting on the effects of the novel coronavirus on communities. They have done so relentlessly, even as many of their news organizations have been devastated by economic downturn, and even as many of them have been laid off or furloughed.”
I know journalists who were laid off and forced to pivot in their careers. I know journalists who were forced to take their child on assignment because daycare doors were closed and there was no alternative child care. I know journalists who lost parents to the virus. I know journalists who contracted the virus.
Yet, Coronavirus didn’t deter their desire to tell stories. Your stories.
This isn’t to say the news industry is without flaw. I’m not suggesting there isn’t work to be done in newsrooms across the country. I’m aware Black journalists were barred from covering protests. I’m not pretending inherent bias doesn’t poke through the pages of some journalists’ stories. I, too, have read racist headlines and winced at the way mugshots of black and brown people are paraded across your television screens even when they are the victim. As our audience, consumers of news, I welcome you to hold us accountable as we undergo our own reckoning with race. However, despite the flaws of the industry, I assure you, those with boots on the ground reporting the stories are not the enemy. We are pushing through pain and problematic work environments, much like many of you, to do our best work.
Calling for our murder won’t stop us, neither will questioning our credibility (without merit). We will write, we will report, and we will work toward greater objectivity—weaving together the stories of this nation’s brokenness. So, the next time you see a journalist, instead of calling for an end to his or her career and/or life, opt for the words, “Thank you.”
And to all my storytellers, I salute you.
Now’s not the time to give up, keep giving it your all.
Lauren Winfrey is Detroit journalist. You can follow her at @laurenwinfrey_ on Instagram.