I’ve never had a life when a pressing news story might not interrupt it.
When I was about four-years old, my mom would get me up before dawn and we’d walk to a kiosk-like structure (to this day I have no idea exactly where we went) so she could scrutinize a bunch of dials and jot numbers in her notebook. When we got back home, I would stand at her feet twirling the cord on the rotary dial phone that was attached to our kitchen wall as she called radio station KRCO with the local weather report.
That was the beginning of her journalism career, which would span more than four decades.
By the time I entered kindergarten, my mom didn’t go anywhere without a pen, a reporter’s notebook and her camera. She sought out anything and everything that could be meaningful in a small town: government meetings, human interest stories, horrific accidents and political issues. And I tagged along while she pursued that truth.
By the time I entered junior high school, I had been chastised for not shaking Senator Bob Packwood’s hand appropriately, had gained a more thorough knowledge of human behavior from a bunch of open-minded hippies at a commune, been a passenger in a small plane performing some scary dangerous aerobatics, and been the human subject in one-too many staged photos. Because if my mom wasn’t writing a story, she assumed the role of photographer for her friend Carolyn Grote.
And that’s how my best friend and I ended up posing for a photo with a man who thought worm farms would be the wave of the future. And, to add insult to injury, the newspaper didn’t even get my name correct. Apparently, when my mom had submitted the photo in her usual forthright manner, she had noted that I was the photographer’s daughter. At some point in the pre-computer era of information transfer, I became the writer’s daughter and my last name changed.
I noted my anger in the scrapbook in which I documented everything I considered important in my life – from class photos to reading awards to wedding announcements. I obviously felt quite offended that a newspaper, an institution I had come to believe was all about the truth, would get my name wrong.
Forty years later, I am not only amused by my childhood indignation, but I still strongly believe in the integrity of institutions that are truly dedicated to pursuing the truth and sharing that truth with the rest of the world. I also know that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who have built their business on the backs of genuine truth seekers.
There are businesses that market themselves as news organizations but have little, if no, interest in the truth. Instead they exist solely for profit or for political purposes.
There are people who market themselves as journalists but are really only peddlers of muck.
And there are citizens who will believe in anything that justifies their own belief system while dismissing anything else as fake. Even worse, they have begun to label journalists as dishonest or self-serving.
I am now married to a journalist and as a journalist’s wife, a journalist’s daughter, and as the mother of a journalism student, I am angered and frightened by the inability to distinguish between truth and lies. I also know that some people don’t believe I can make a non-biased case for journalistic integrity.
But for those who will listen, I can tell you the truth about real journalism.
Real journalism isn’t about making people happy – it’s about helping people better understand the world in which they live and to make the decisions accordingly.
Real journalism doesn’t fit easily into a family’s schedule. My husband keeps crazy hours, and my mother never knew when a breaking story would tear her away from her family.
Real journalism doesn’t involve turning information that comes from only one source into fact. Real journalism requires more than one source and documentation. Anything less is just a quote from someone who may or may not be telling the truth.
Real journalism doesn’t recognize holidays. Every year, I see the social media posts about stores that require employees to work on Thanksgiving or other holidays. No one ever suggests that journalists should ignore world events to eat turkey or open Christmas gifts. My mom and husband often worked on Christmas because, well, someone had to.
Real journalism is careful to distinguish between opinion pieces and news.
Real journalism is about accountability for those who deliver the news as well as those who read or hear it.
And real journalism is about uncovering the truth and sharing that truth with others no matter the implications.
And now, that pursuit of the truth is in jeopardy.
Last summer, I had the privilege of attending an event at the National Press Club. While I was there, I saw an announcement that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had banned the Washington Post from having access to his campaign.
And that is the day I got really, really scared.
There is a huge difference between cracking down on fake news and cracking down on legitimate news sources. Those legitimate sources are what make the difference between living in freedom and living in oppression. And those who control the media control access to the truth.
It’s time we all begin to evaluate from where our information comes, arm ourselves with that truth, and defend those who share it with us.
Anything less is just not American.