When you’re writing about the working class, of course you don’t want to say, “Now I’m going to tell you about the working class.” The point is that working-class lives are similar to white-collar lives, except they don’t have money to fix things—they don’t have the resources or the connections or the education to make life’s major problems go away, which is what I’ll be dealing with in the book. There’s a lot of tragedy in working-class lives, and certainly my family was no exception. There’s something really energizing and humbling in realizing I can call on my own roots to tell this story. Some of the secrets in this book are pretty common secrets for a lot of families. It’s fiction, but it’s all true.

I want to remind reporters that nobody knows their community like they do. What I worry about with the cutbacks is that what it’s really cutting back is the confidence of the reporters. But that’s something reporters can be in control of: You decided to be a journalist for a reason, and that reason still exists. You want to tell the stories of people that otherwise nobody would ever know about. You could change lives if you write about them. And you’re also letting everyone else know that we have more in common than we want to think.

We’re getting so beaten up in our profession, but that’s not who we are. Ambition is contagious and good journalism begets good journalism. There’s that quote from Lucille Clifton, which I still have taped to my computer: “What they call you is one thing, what you answer to is something else.” They can call me a senator’s wife until their hair falls out. I’m a journalist. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. 

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Alec MacGillis is a senior editor at The New Republic.