A tale of two journalisms

10pm — Thursday, November 1st. The audio of a segment on what you can and cannot wear on Election Day in Minnesota echoes from the television in the front room of my apartment. I’m sitting at my desk in the office a few steps away. My headphones are on, but I’m not feeling myself.

What is on my mind at this late hour as the metropolis that is Minneapolis is all aglow with light outside my window is three-fold— my personal future, my professional future and the future of journalism, along with those who work in it. To say that I am scared is just the tip of the iceberg.

Dickens began his famous work A Tale of Two Cities thusly: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.

Though the text was written over a century and a half ago, that particular saying can sum up the state of journalism. While it can be shown that journalism is still a necessity in America, it too can be shown that journalism can be a source of anxiety for those navigating or hoping for a career in journalism in America.

Minneapolis, Minnesota at sunrise, circa June 2018. The journalists of the Twin Cities aim to do what any journalist does — help their neighbor be at their best, as the industry operates in flux. (Photo by the author.)

The reasons why we enter journalism, be it in cities of 9,000 or 9 million, are simple ones.

We want to inform, engage and educate our neighbors, whether they live on the other side of the country or the other part of a state. We believe that an informed world is a productive world, and that when our neighbors are at their best, they can work to help make the world around them be at its best.

Yet, in the face of copious layoffs, questionable business practices, declining levels of trust and the constant branding by the President of the United States of journalists as the true enemy of the people, morale in journalism is low. This is particularly true for those early in their career who thought that they would be able to spend their working lives in an industry where they could work not for themselves but for the world — where they could truly make a difference.

We question everything and anything. We question ourselves, our ideas and if we’ve done the right thing. We wonder what the whole point of it is. Our confidence and self-esteem become depleted as we continue to find difficulty in finding the light at the end of the tunnel.

Recently, the journalist and industry innovator Heather Bryant gave a talk at the Newsgeist conference, held at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University, and published her remarks. Bryant reflected on the industry and the challenges that journalism faces as it tries to perform its role and function properly in a democracy.

Yet, towards the end of that talk, she had a solution, in fact, the only solution, as to what would ensure journalism could do what it is intended to do — people.

“The future of journalism is and always will be people,” Bryant wrote. “The thing that will save journalism is people. The ones in our newsrooms and the ones outside our newsrooms. People from all kind of backgrounds and perspectives. People who seek to use their voice to empower others. People who work together. Our future depends on how we treat them, how we include or exclude them, how we represent and serve them and how we invest in them.”

Not only will the thing that saves journalism be people, the thing that will save the people in journalism are people — people who collaborate with their peers instead of competing against them, people who champion their colleagues in their newsrooms and others, people who reduce isolation and bolster confidence, people who care and will tell you that it’s going to be okay.

In this age where journalists are scared about the future, and when the world’s events can become too much to bare, the fact of knowing someone is there can go a long way. It is not a luxury, but a necessity — something that many in journalism often forget or take for granted.

So as journalists prepare for covering the midterm elections on Tuesday, put down the need for competition and boastfulness. Check on colleagues, be they in your own newsroom or outside of it. Call them, message them, get a cup of coffee with them. Anything of exuberant importance can wait — for if we are to do what journalists are supposed to do according to a Minnesota journalism lecturer, we will be better champions of our audience when we champion each other.

As we move along, this chapter in the chronicle of journalism will end, and another one will begin. They may be different, yet there will be a constant in both, the only element that can ensure that journalism has a chance of having an effervescent future in this chapter and the next — people.