In my idealistic mind, good journalism could save the world. As a high school senior, I believed that journalists were the best storytellers. I still do. We can turn a magnifying glass to governments and schools. We can turn it on our neighbors and ourselves. Our words can sting, and soothe.
And in these difficult economic times it hurts to see the profession turned upside down.
We’ve all learned how to write more stories with smaller staffs. We’ve learned to hold back tears as our colleagues are hastily escorted out after another round of layoffs hits. We’ve learned that sometimes our complaints fall on editors who are just as frustrated. Last December, I decided I could no longer handle the emotional roller coaster and began my path out.
I was one of the lucky few who decided to walk out of the profession on my own. Faced with the industry’s uncertanties, I decided to go the route of graduate school and pursue pastoral ministry at Boston College. It was something I’d kicked around for years but could never go through with it—until I sat through two rounds of layoffs at my small daily newspaper. The first stung a little and the second felt like someone had punched my stomach.
I can’t pinpoint what went wrong in the world of dailies; whether it was trying to monetize our Web site, or trying to focus wholeheartedly on our video presence. Being a print journalist buried under breaking news requirements and video training classes made me throw up my hands in frustration.
Turning to new media for ideas, newspapers and Web sites have started using more links to social media sites like Facebook. But the trouble is that news organizations haven’t really figured out how to bring in the profit from multimedia.
Even as a frequent user of social networking sites and multimedia tools, I still can’t face what’s happening to daily journalism. This destruction of daily journalism, where newspapers are gutted from the inside out, is too hard to watch up close. Tears sometimes hit the keyboard when I think about the life I’m walking away from.
My newsroom colleagues sometimes joked about my decision to go do God’s work. Leaving the cynical and sometimes atheistic surroundings of a newsroom to seek a deeper meaning of faith did seem like a strange choice. My boss told me once that newsrooms are filled with non-believers.
Maybe he’s right. But I’d like to think that the people who held my hand through my first murder story or taught me how to write my first high school sports gamer really believed in something. Maybe it wasn’t God. But maybe they believed in truth in the world, believed that sometimes life is horrible, and if not for the journalists who stood up to take notes and make noise, then nobody would?
I believe there’s a goodness in newsrooms, in journalists. There is pride and honor associated with the profession. We stand up for those who can’t speak. We investigate issues in your schools. We dig into your local government.
My advice to young journalists is that your words will make a difference. Readers will sometimes be stirred by your words enough to make changes in their neighborhoods. Parents will become emotional over their son or daughter’s obituary that you crafted. Strangers will befriend you because they know there is power in your words.
Newspapers may be dying, but you signed on to something you believed in because of that idealism, that hope. Be that strong-willed voice for change.
Clarissa Aljentera is a former education and crime reporter for the Monterey County Herald.
The steady drip of layoffs and buyouts, slowly desiccating once-vibrant newsrooms around the country, has also produced a reservoir of anger, sadness, fear, uncertainty—even some cautious optimism here and there—among reporters and editors who invested years, decades in some cases, of their lives to print journalism. We’ve asked anyone so inclined to channel these emotions, not into rant—although there will be a bit of that—but rather into reflection on what went wrong, and where we might go from here. We will publish one per day, under the headline “Parting Thoughts.” All of the letters we publish will be collected here.