What’s journalism for?


By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s one explanation, from the media writer for The New York Times:

If you’re a reader, you can enjoy journalism, appreciate its role in a free society and resist the search for heroes who will take down evildoers and save our democracy

The alternative to heroes are strong institutions, and a recognition that the people who work in them are human. Reporters, for all the preening from cable news to social media, are normal working people whose strengths are often connected to what would seem in other contexts to be personality flaws: obsessiveness, distrust, appetite for confrontation, sometimes a certain manipulativeness. You don’t get revelatory news from strange people with bad motives by giving the impression that you’re a saint...

This dynamic presents itself with particular clarity on the television interview circuit. It’s an enduring global mystery why British and Australian interviewers are so much better than ours at pinning down politicians and forcing clarity out of confrontation, as Kay Burley of Sky News demonstrated in demolishing a cabinet minister last Thursday.

The answer, I think, is that American television hosts need to be liked.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows I work as a journalist — and have done so in Toronto, Montreal, Paris, New Hampshire and New York, as a daily newspaper reporter, a magazine editor and a freelance writer for a wide array of outlets.

The industry has lost thousands of journalists this year, exacerbated by the pandemic.

This hurts the quality of the work you see — and I do as well — as much as it over-inflates the egos of those who still have a job, especially at a major outlet like The New York Times or Washington Post or on television, where salaries are usually much higher.

Local journalism is disappearing.

Here’s a truly depressing tracker of every American newsroom losing staff since March when the pandemic started to hit.

That leaves local residents unable to track their taxpayers’ funds or local sports teams or board of education budgets. There’s simply no way to know what’s going on in your community, for sure, without skilled, trained reporters able to ferret out data and make sense of it — and who are willing to confront those with power, elected and un-elected — with tough questions.

It’s called accountability. Every functioning democracy needs not only a free press but one digging deeply at every level, not just changing a few paragraphs of a press release.

From a career perspective, the loss of smaller outlets also makes any traditional ladder impossible for many, if not most, new/young journalists to start climbing — leaving those more privileged to attend the elite colleges most hiring managers prefer and able to move to the major cities where living costs are very high and entry level salaries not great.

I’ve seen this through the experiences of young independent journalist Abby Lee Hood, who I met through Twitter, a writer in Nashville, who studied journalism at a great school (Columbia College), but whose current pay rates are so low it just makes serious reporting a costly hobby.

That’s a loss for all of us!


This has also been a very bad week for journalism ethics — yes, they exist — with the revelation from the legendary former Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that Trump knew months ago, admitted to him on the record months ago, that the Corona virus was deadly.

So, yeah, 200,000 dead Americans later…

Only now —- to boost book sales — is this public?!

For shame!


10 thoughts on “What’s journalism for?

  1. I’m still getting my bearings around the story, so I’m sure I’ve missed a bit. I do believe, however, that if Woodward published an article right afterward, he wouldn’t have gotten all those other interviews that would flesh out the story of the man even more, which will likely solidify this as not just an off-the-cuff thing he can brush aside. But as one person I’d read noted, you’d have the cronies howling about how it’s fake news and Dump was being made to look bad. And I remember a lot of coverage from early on saying “yeah, it’s bad in China, but it’s not gonna get that bad here,” and running with it. Granted, Dump helped it get that bad.

    But then you’ve got the audio tapes. That’s where this gets hard to justify to me. I don’t think we should’ve had to wait nearly this long to be exposed. That should’ve gone out so much sooner, I think. I’m finding it hard to keep things in perspective, though, because 2020 has been a whirlwind. It’s felt like a decade and the insanity has just blurred together the longer it’s gone on.

    The trouble with good journalism is it takes its time, yet this medical crisis is one of those situations where time is too short for waiting for something like this. Of course, with the Dump supporters doubling-down on their man (and quadrupling down in many cases around where I’m at), the book or the articles wouldn’t make a lick of difference to them. They’ve made up their mind and nothing will change it… though I hope like hell I’m wrong.

      1. Definitely something not great, that’s for sure.

        I just can’t get why people are still worshiping the guy. Okay, so they wanna hurt the libs, or “make ’em cry”–then what? I don’t think any Dump supporters have thought about how it’s supposed to go after all this. It’s like they’re eagerly stabbing somebody with a sword that has no hilt. They’re eagerly inflicting damage, but don’t seem to realize they’re cutting their own hands down to the bone (too many game of thrones analogies running around my head, I guess).

        I just don’t get the sheer hate that fuels it all, the hate of facts and learning. My inner educator is screaming at how much learning things for yourself is demonized. These folks are so happy to have someone else do the thinking and doing for them (the obvious trouble is, very little “thinking” going on and mostly just “doing”!)

        I wonder if history books 100 years from now will refer to this time as America’s “Dark Ages.” Hmm…

      2. I have constantly said ….I. wonder how historians will handle this. It is the weirdest time I have ever seen in the U.S. in 30 years here. Very very very worrying….There are too many stupid angry people.

  2. I admire journalists very much. I think they don’t get the respect they deserve. As far as Bob Woodward goes, I agree it was unethical for him to not report until now what that man-child revealed to him so early on about the Coronavirus.

      1. Yes, so do I. I’ve been listening to an interesting podcast lately. It’s Another Door Opens with Stephanie Himango. She and I grew up, not together really, but around the same time in the same small northern Minnesota town. I recently learned that she is an Emmy winning producer and journalist as well as an author. She is gifted at asking questions and listens well. You might want to give her podcast a listen. But I do have one question for you: who do you view as “preening” journalists on tv? I have my own thoughts on this but am curious about what you think.

      2. Thanks for this tip!

        I am just really fed up with national news “reporters” who tell us virtually nothing of substance — certainly on TV. BBC, yes…

        And I am sick to death of the NYT opinion columnists — a bunch of old white people who are so so predictable.

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