Last week, the hashtag #actuallivingscientist started trending in some circles on Twitter. I was charmed by the photos and stories of people doing the grunt work of science and research. The hashtag was borne from the idea that most people couldn’t name a single living scientist, which is unfortunate.
But while scientists are overlooked (and unknown) by so many, I’m even sadder about the current view of actual living journalists. Americans don’t trust the media, and that breaks my heart for a thousand reasons.
You see, I used to be an #actuallivingjournalist. I majored in journalism in college; I wrote and edited at the student newspaper; I interned at two Ohio newspapers. Then I worked for a couple years as a reporter in a Virginia town, covering a mix of crime, courts, and local government. The pay was crummy, and the hours were bizarre. But I loved being able to tell stories about people, places, events, statistics, reports, studies, and government spending. I loved talking to city councilors, jail inmates, and local business owners, then cobbling together a few hundred words so that the community could learn about them.
For me, mainstream media is not an abstract group of coastal elites. Rather, it’s the people I went to college with, whose kids’ photos I see on Facebook, who work day in and day out to share information with the public. They work at NPR, NBC, and Time. They write for Esquire, Politico, and The Huffington Post. They studied journalism as college students, where they got an education on information gathering, interviewing, government, history, grammar, and writing. Since then they’ve been doing the groundwork of calling sources, reading studies and reports, analyzing data, showing up at breaking news scenes, talking to witnesses, and so much more.
I trust these people because I know them. But I also trust their ethics, their analyses, and their words. I trust that they’re working diligently to report facts and not “alternative facts.” I trust that they’re doing their damnedest to connect with American people and tell their stories.
More than that, I trust the institution of journalism because it’s part of what makes America a strong democracy. A free press allows us to share opinions, report on facts, learn about our communities, our nation, and our world.
I’ve become more open about my politics, but I don’t think you need to pick a political party to find a lot of value in news media. You don’t have to align with Democrats or Republicans to be informed about the events happening around us. And we need a critical eye on our government, all the time, but especially lately. Government works for us, the citizens of the country. They get paid with our money, the people who pay taxes. The news reporters, producers, editors, and correspondents of the world help to track what they’re doing.
I work a full-time corporate job, and I raise two boys, so I can’t be in Washington, D.C., to see what Congress is doing, or Columbus, Ohio, to see what my state legislators are doing. But reporters are there, and they’re trying to keep us informed about the workings of the government and the world.
A few months ago, I bought a digital subscription to a local news source, and I dropped a few bucks in the local NPR-affiliate fund drive. I think you should do the same. If you don’t know an #actuallivingjournalist, ask around a bit to see who does. They’re closer than you realize, and they’re working for you, whether you trust them or not.