Saturday, March 11, 2017

Word

I always wanted to write. Since the age of five, writing was my passion, and though I was very interested in creative writing, I was later drawn to journalism and reporting. To me, journalism was a form of service--offering to the public, to the community, facts that would help people live their lives safely and knowledgeably.

When I was nine, I started a newspaper on my upstate New York street (if memory serves, it was called the Gillespie Street Times, but I can’t swear to that). For a very brief period (because play eventually won out) I interviewed neighbors, collected data, and kept track of all the comings and goings (lost cats, pot holes, kickball games, etc.) My self-appointed job was to be accurate, because no reporter wants to be called into an editor’s office due to misleading statements or inaccuracies (though I was my own editor back then, and I sure didn't have an office!).

In high school I signed up for journalism. We learned to report on who, why, what, where, when, and sometimes, how. We threw spitballs and made squirrel noises at a teacher we didn’t adore when she turned her back to scribble on the blackboard. Another teacher we revered—he introduced us to coffee and motorcycles and insisted that our stories were factual, lucid, and significant. We went out into the field, gathering experiences, information and facts based on observation and interviews with credible sources. We were only in high school, yet we had begun to realize that some “real” reporters risked their lives for facts, traveled to war-torn countries, and put their lives on the line for the truth.

Onto college, where I volunteered for the college newspaper (for no credit, out of passion for truth). I spent long nights in the newspaper office, walking or biking home alone at 5 a.m. after the newspaper was “put to bed.” I was in love not only with the cute boy who wrote headlines, but also with words, truth, and accuracy.

I graduated and got a job as a reporter at a community newspaper. I worked and wrote nonstop: Meetings, deadlines, stories due the next morning after a town board or school board session that ended at 2 a.m. I always got quotes from both sides, reported the pros and cons, and checked my facts. No reporter wants to have to print a retraction or correction. (And btw, I was paid a pittance.)

Later, writing for magazines, I continued to deal with facts. I interviewed experts (including Mr. Rogers—on the phone!). I answered to fact-checkers, editors, and copy editors. Every detail was checked and rechecked. Even a simple piece about diapers or toys brought out fact checkers galore. Readers may not always know how long and nit-picky is the process to ensure that information is correct.

Some go to grad school--or to combat zones--to study to become better writers, reporters, to become investigative reporters, to learn how to interview well and write clearly. When these paths are demeaned, when those who seek to write and speak truth are maligned, a dangerous door is opened. Disparaging the media is a calculated step to create a confused and untrusting populace that can easily be manipulated.

Words have power. Words have meaning. Words can maim or heal. By far, most journalists write or report not to harm, betray, or confuse, but to inform, help, and clarify.

I’ve devoted my working life to words. Whether written or spoken, words matter. And like the sun, the truth always rises—quite often, due to the devotion and hard work of journalists. Yes, there are a few bad eggs (and a few mediocre news stations). But the vast majority of journalists respect and strive for truth and accuracy.

Don’t just “believe me.” You can fact-check me on that.

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