Does journalism matter?

Last week at the Excellence in Journalism conference, a young reporter asked for my advice about her career. “I’m thinking about whether this job is what I really want to do,” she said, “I’m not sure this is for me anymore.” That floored me, because despite her short two years of experience, this reporter gets it. She’s full of potential — she’s street smart, curious, and not easily intimidated. She graduated from a great j-school and yet here she was. “I got into this business because I thought I could make a difference, I don’t see that my work matters.”

I wonder if newsroom managers remind employees often enough that our work really matters. I’ve had the privilege of participating in number of journalism workshops and seminars. At Poynter awhile back, Al Tompkins was trying to help a group of excellent producers get even better. Al is a dynamic and eloquent speaker. On the last day of our seminar Al reminded those producers, and me, how important our work really is.

I realized that as we dodge the slings and arrows of this business, suffering through downward pressure on staff salaries and upward pressure on the amount of material we must produce; strategizing the last tenth of a demo point; protecting our newsroom from the increasing influence of sales and sponsorships; we need to be reminded that our work still matters to our community, that journalism is still worth it.

So, for the sake of all those young journalists, let’s remember why we’re here:

  • We save lives. No one can count the number of people still living today due to quick reporting of severe weather or dogged exploration of poor health practices or dangerous workplace safety violations.
  • Our craft, journalism, enlightens and informs.
  • We make our communities better and safer everyday.
  • We give voice to those who would otherwise be ignored or underserved.
  • We hold the powerful accountable to the high ethical standards our society demands.
  • We educate our community so they may make better decisions when they vote or argue one side of an issue.
  • We protect democracy against tyranny. Our profession is the only one our founding fathers believed so important, they guaranteed it in the first amendment to the United States Constitution.

We don’t often see the affects of our work. We don’t often see how we made it easier for a poor person to get help or protected a worker or got someone down into their basement just before the tornado hit — but we have, you can be sure, we have.

Next time you walk through your newsroom, remind your staff how important their work is. Remind them that we are here to educate and inform and make our small corner of the world a little better today.

Let’s regularly remind ourselves what is really important about this craft we call journalism and why our community relies so much upon us. Maybe by doing so, we can empower the next generation of journalists with the same excitement we once had and hopefully still do.

What we do is important and we can’t say it enough… what we do really matters.

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