Why I joined Hearken: Taking responsibility gives you power

We have to see the public showing us their side eye, and take responsibility for it.

A mentor of mine once shared a quote that transformed me: “When you take responsibility, you have power.” When you take responsibility for the things that are not your fault completely, you can make some amazing changes.

Here I am with my Marantz and microphone in Romania covering protests over a controversial gold mining project.

When friends or acquaintances find out I’m a journalist, they often share their grievances and questions with me. “Why did NPR have this really bad expert on this morning?” they ask me while I’m at the rock climbing gym. “Why did they run that story, it’s such a waste of my time,” I hear at Thanksgiving dinner. I usually remind them I don’t work for the publication in question, I didn’t set up that interview, and I would personally do it differently. They still look at me with an unsatisfied side eye and we change the subject.

But sometimes, I try harder to answer them. I pretend I did have a role, and I take responsibility. That’s when I learn something. They’re upset, they’re annoyed, and they’re sick of what they’re hearing. Honestly, I can completely relate. Even as a journalist, I have to turn off the news. It makes me mentally exhausted sometimes.

There are moments when I have glimmers of the reasons I became a journalist. I hold on to them with a death grip. I feel in my gut there has to be a better way to live as a creator and consumer of news. That is why I am here at Hearken.

Back to my mentor’s guidance: If taking responsibility gives you power, could the journalism industry take more responsibility, and in turn have more power to serve communities? I want to find out.

Here I am on the radio covering military veterans in upstate New York with North Country Public Radio.

It’s much easier to ignore the haters. But what if the haters were the ones who were showing us why our industry is dying? I think they are. When critics openly share their frustrations, they are saying what many people are unwilling to say. They’re serving up a menu of ways we can improve, and most in the journalism industry aren’t paying attention, or don’t have the luxury to. Can we take responsibility as individuals for the things our industry is doing, or failing to do? And can we improve how we work, how we serve, how we listen? I believe we can. I’m raising my hand here along with my entire Hearken team.

That’s why Hearken, and the public-powered journalism concept, is so important. We are actively helping journalists see that this type of work is not a luxury, but an essential move. It’s much needed therapy for a broken industry. Not everyone in journalism will embrace this model right away, and I’m okay with that. The audience surely is embracing it. Hearken stories consistently outperform stories done by the typical editorial model.

I’m energized and focused. There’s a lot about journalism I do love, despite its faults. My microphone has been a passport to lives I never dreamed existed. It has led me to the home of a teen rodeo queen in Missouri, a homeless veteran in upstate New York, and the couch of the first blind climber of Mount Everest. It has been a comfort to people who felt like they had nowhere to turn. In those moments I am trusted, and I take full responsibility for my work. In the less galant moments when stories run flat, and the news is actually not done well, I had something to learn, too.

We have to see the public showing us their side eye, and take responsibility for it. We can do better. We must, for the sake of our listeners and the tellers. Let’s trust them as we want them to trust us.