My tribe — journalism

By Caitlin Kelly



One of the many reasons I still enjoy journalism  — after working in it for more than 30 years — is the people who choose to do it for a living: smart, sharp, a quick learner, down-to-earth and a team player.

I’ve worked as a staff reporter and feature writer for the Globe & Mail, Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News, each of which offered some wild adventures. At the Globe, I covered a Royal Tour across three provinces and met Queen Elizabeth aboard Brittania; at the Gazette I flew into an Arctic village of 500 people and came home through an iceberg and at the Daily News broke stories like the DHS — back in 2006 — holding onto migrant children.

If you’re not, always, insatiably curious — the kid who drove your parents and teachers and professors mad with questions and challenges — it’s not a great fit.


It is our job to challenge authority.


Right now in the United States, we’re massively and daily under attack, even to the point of murder — as five journalists, a mix of writers and editors, were murdered at a small local paper in Maryland, The Capital Gazette.

This is what I’m talking about:

One week after the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, President Donald Trump put an end to any speculation that the tragedy could lead to a truce in his unrelenting war on the news media.

“Fake news. Bad people,” Trump said, pointing at the news crews covering his rally Thursday in Great Falls, Montana, as the crowd went wild.

“I see the way they write. They’re so damn dishonest,” Trump said. “And I don’t mean all of them, because some of the finest people I know are journalists really. Hard to believe when I say that. I hate to say it, but I have to say it. But 75 percent of those people are downright dishonest. Downright dishonest. They’re fake. They’re fake.”

“They make the sources up. They don’t exist in many cases,” he continued. “These are really bad people.”

This, from the President whose latest Cabinet member just resigned mired in scandal, Scott Pruitt.

I’m appalled by Trump’s incessant lies and hostility toward us.

Watch his spokesman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, actually insult reporters during White House press briefings and you wonder why anyone keeps showing up to give her the opportunity.

Watch the 2015 film “Spotlight” –– which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and is based on a true team working at the Boston Globe to uncover sexual abuse in the Catholic Church — for one of the best and most truthful depictions of our work.

People who know nothing of journalism or why most of us do it or why we believe it’s of essential value to any functional democracy — at its best, speaking truth to power — can easily spit on us and scream at us or, as several have, kill us.


According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 46 of us died on duty in 2017 — six of them freelancers like me.

One of them, Kim Wall, was a massively talented young woman who went out on a submarine in Denmark to profile its inventor. He murdered her, dismembered her and threw her into the water.

It stunned every one of us who — by definition  — have to be self-reliant and often go out alone on assignment to meet people whose character and motives we do not know.

It creates foxhole camaraderie.

So I wrote this story, which ran last week on Poynter, a website devoted to journalism, (named for its benefactor) about long-term newsroom friendships, quoting (among writers from the L.A. Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, a friend and highly accomplished science writer Maryn McKenna:


McKenna thinks that’s, in part, because of Foxhole camaraderie. Journalists work weekends and holidays and have to deal daily with sources who don’t want them there.

“That all tends to build a gestalt of: ‘The outside world doesn’t understand us, so it is up to us to appreciate each other.’ There’s definitely a journalistic personality — we’re simultaneously deeply cynical and utterly committed to old-fashioned virtues of truthfulness and accuracy and grinding hard work — and the stresses of journalistic practice make it clear pretty quickly who in the newsroom shares those values and who doesn’t. Once you find people who do share them, you cling to them.”

15 thoughts on “My tribe — journalism

  1. Since Trump is a well known obfuscator of the truth I tend to believe the exact opposite of what he says and this applies especially to the press.Therefore his Fake Truth cries should bring the biggest accolades and his ‘Honest’ friends at places like Breibart deserve closing down.
    Keep telling it as you see it Caitlin.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  2. journalists not only have to work very hard to keep their jobs, in light of downsizing, to maintain their credibility, in the wake of so much deception and outright lying going on, but they also must hold their heads high, to speak truth to power and keep themselves safe from harm. i applaud each and every one of you who are up to this enormous task.

  3. Paul Knox

    Great piece, Caitlin. So much could be said on this topic. Anyone who’s worked internationally for a while could tell other stories. The bravery of journalists in lawless places – women and men who could have been electricians or lab technologists or teachers, made more money and been safer, but who keep reporting and publishing not only because the work is vital but because *this is who they are.* Intense camaraderie and collaboration lasting for a day or a week, with people you see or hear of once every two or five or ten years, or maybe never. Back home, long talks that can still deepen your craft understanding after 30-40 years. Seeing in students the same fires of curiosity and devotion to meaning-making that still burn inside you after five decades.

    Media scholars have spent years trying to encapsulate journalists’ attitudes, world views, “professional” standards, decision-making processes, protective instincts, degrees of autonomy (imagined and real), and so on. Some come closer than others but it must be hard, without having lived it, to faithfully represent either the myth or the reality.

    I think about what it must be like to cover Trump, endure the deliberate abuse and stick to first principles (*not* the O-word, but rather making sense for the audience while practicing verification and pushing stories forward). In principle it should be possible, but the physical and emotional burden must be significant. Wherever we can, we should show solidarity with those in the trenches and call out sinister misrepresentations of what journalists do. It’s work, not war, as Marty Baron said, but we can’t stay silent when work becomes a matter of life or death.

    Thanks again Caitlin. Hope you’re well.

    1. Thank you so much!

      Blogside readers — Paul is a former foreign correspondent for the Globe & Mail, (i.e. former colleague) and a journalism educator in Toronto.

      It’s a huge honor to have him read and comment.

  4. I am very concerned about the US. My husband and I have decided that we won’t be visiting for a while. Not specifically because of what has happened, but because of what could happen. As former military who has experienced some very dodgy and dangerous stuff, I am no shrinking violet, but Trump’s instability has me worried. And, it’s a sentiment I’m hearing a lot. History teaches that dictators find a scapegoat(s) and then start attacking journalists and educators next. Trump is on this road. What’s next? President for life? He’s already talked about it …

    1. I don’t blame you a bit — and have no doubt many others are choosing less-bizarre places to holiday.

      He is unhinged and frightening. The worst is that the GOP just stands back and watches the (horror) movie.

  5. I, like you, heave a sigh of relief when around fellow journalists. And the challenging authority bit–it’s interesting to watch many make the shift to working in corporate America (something I had to do years ago, while keeping my hand in more traditional journalism also). They sometimes struggle in corporate culture because they call the b.s. as they see it–and that doesn’t sit well with senior execs. The smart ones appreciate it, though:).

    1. I feel very at-sea when I am around people who use impact as a verb or say things like “not in my wheelhouse” — who aren’t ships’ captains. I value straight talk and loathe those who won’t use it.

  6. Pingback: [WRITING] Five writing links: Wangersky, Kelly, Wrede, Harris, McKean | A Bit More Detail

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