What do Journalists do?
When I enrolled for “Research Methods and Studies”, I had a very skewed vision of what it meant to be a journalist. I had participated in my high school’s paper, writing two stories a month. I enjoyed what I did and it encouraged me to entertain the idea of minoring in journalism while in college. Looking back on the journalism class I realized that it was a very simplistic and elementary level of journalism. I was excited to experience the next level of journalism in college. I spent many of my days being shocked by the news I was learning in Research Methods and Studies, and it was a welcome shock that made me thrive to learn more. I will absolutely not claim that I know every facet of what a journalist does, but I do know that I learned a considerable amount during my 15 weeks in the class.
Being a journalist is no small profession. It takes a special kind of person to develop the skills to be able to perform your job effectively. I did not know whether I would want to become a journalist or not after I took the class, and I am still pondering over the idea. This is a personal battle because I do not know if I have what it takes to be a journalist. Journalists have to do whatever it takes to get the story. Now this might be in a small town and you have to pursue and individual to get a story, or it might be on the front-lines of war. I experienced the latter while watching the documentary “Dying to Tell the Story.” A startling fact that has stuck with me after watching Dan Eldon’s story is that in the past 10 years, nearly 1 journalist has died in a war zone every week. This just proves how dangerous a job journalism can be, but some journalists live off of adrenaline inducing experiences such as war. Personally, if asked to go on the front-lines to get a particular story, I would hope I would have the courage to accept the task, because I would want to do my duty of informing the people.
For some people in our class, the assignment of going around to random students and asking what they were thinking about was like a war zone. For me I did not think I would have too much trouble branching out and asking an individual a simple question, but my attitude took a sharp turn after I asked my first person. I experienced rejection as a reporter for the first time, and it was an interesting and humbling experience. I went into the assignment not considering the possibility of someone not wanting to be interviewed, but it served as a good journalistic lesson. Journalists will face many hardships when trying to attain a story. A fantastic lead who you think will provide just the right quotes for your story might not be interested in helping you at all. It is all about how you overcome these obstacles which all journalists will face. When I experienced the rejection, my initial reaction was not wanting to even attempt to interview anyone else. I felt like my extrovertedness had disappeared and I wanted to call it quits. After walking around aimlessly for quite some time, I realized that I would get nowhere if I didn’t at least try again. Fortunately, the next three people I interviewed all accepted the invitation and I was able to hear three wonderful stories that I would’ve never heard had I given up.
One of the most important values in life is being truthful, and this concept weighs heavily on every journalists shoulders. People will believe what you write, and it is crucial that every bit of information you share is the truth. You won’t survive in the journalistic world if you are found out to be a fraud. I learned this by watching the movie “True Story”. Mike Finkel, writer for the New York Times, was covering a story in a foreign country. With the intentions of making it a very emotional story, he twisted some of the truths to produce the story he wanted, but it wasn’t fully accurate truth-wise. He was discovered immediately, and within minutes of the film starting it shows Finkel being fired from one of the most prestigious news organizations in the United States. The next few scenes of the movie portrayed the repercussions of his lack of truth very well. Finkel is shown calling multiple news organizations, even old friends who might owe him favors, and nobody wants to even consider hiring him. Another element of the film is his loyalty towards Michael Longo. He gave him his word that he would not release any information regarding the stories he is sharing, but Finkel is faced with a tough decision. He is approached by a detective who is leading the investigation against Longo, and is heavily pressured to share whatever information he has, claiming that he could be the deciding factor on whether Longo is released from prison or not. I tried to put myself in Finkel’s situation, and I know how difficult it would be to negate pressure from a government official. But Finkel remained loyal and I believe that is a factor in why Finkel and Longo have remained in contact to this day.
Journalism is an emotional battle. There are a lot of negative things that happen in the world, and it is journalists responsibility to cover what is going on. One of the first stories we heavily covered was of the Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi. The heartbreaking photo of the little 3 year old washed up on a beach was circulating the internet, and the class decided to investigate the story. I went back to my dorm that day with a lot on my mind. Part of me was simply sad about the entire situation of a young boy losing his life, but then I had a realization that the journalists who took the photo were serving an important purpose. It was highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis for people who had no idea what was happening on that side of the world. After I recently searched the photo again, I found many articles that proved my point. One stated that “Up to 20 million people saw the harrowing image of Aylan Kurdi in only 12 hours,” and “Dead Syrian Child Picture Worked, Media Changed Public Perception after Aylan Kurdi’s picture went viral”. The journalist brought light to the dark and relatively unknown situation, and now there are many supporters who are wanting to aid the Syrian refugees. The power of a photograph is immensely strong. Most would argue that a single photograph is more effective than a long story regarding the same issue. Either way, the journalist who had to take the harrowing picture served a purpose and he did it effectively.
I felt a wide range of emotions during my experience with Research Methods and Studies, but I realized the true importance of what a journalist does. You tell the story. The people need to be informed and you need to get the information to them no matter what it takes. There will be many obstacles but the feeling of telling a story that could possibly change the lives of others is one that is difficult to replicate. My perception of journalism has changed throughout this course, in the best way possible.