In the past week, Americans have learned that President Trump shared code-word level classified information with the Russian foreign minister and an ambassador, endangering relations with Israel; that Trump appears to have pressured former FBI Director James Comey into dropping the investigation into embattled Michael Flynn; and that a top-ranking GOP House leader once “joked” last year that he thought Trump was on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s payroll.
And now House and Senate members are openly talking about impeachment.
How did we get here?
It’s thanks to the brave and intelligent digging of journalists.
But few Americans appreciate their hard work because they have been poisoned by their political leanings and ignorance of how media outlets work. Many assume that editors or publishers are breathing down the necks of the grunt reporters and producers to produce a story that swings one way or another. And that’s very likely at publications and media organizations that do not try to hide their political leanings. For traditional media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post or local newspapers, that is not the case.
To be a journalist, you root for the underdog, the people or person who struggles to find their voice amid terrible or difficult circumstances. We respect power, but you can’t be too powerful, otherwise journalists will hunt you down and put you back where you belong. Traditionally, journalists have been called the Fourth Estate, or the fourth major branch of our government. There’s the Legislative Branch (Congress), the Judicial Branch (the Supreme Court), the Executive Branch (the White House) and then there’s us: the Fourth Estate.
Being a journalist is pretty tough these days, though. Mergers and downsizing have consolidated the industry into a handful of media companies, leading to less competition and worse quality of work. The dawn of the internet age spelled the doom of the newspaper and news magazine because, suddenly, readers didn’t have to pay to read their work. And when readers stopped their subscriptions, advertisers found media publications less attractive. And when the ads became scarce, then there were layoffs and less money for investigative work. When newspapers and news magazines decided to not put up paywalls on their websites in the 1990s, for fear of driving away readers, they put into motion the beginning of the end of our industry. We have never been able to recover.
On my personal Facebook page, I asked my friends and followers: if you were concerned about what was happening in Washington, D.C., and you didn’t trust the “mainstream media” (whatever that is), then who or what did you put your faith in to save us from this mess? I got a range of answers, saying that 1) we could only depend on ourselves and our community, 2) that we just ignore the madness altogether, 3) that we do our own investigative work, and 4) that academia will save us.
Can one sustain personal investigation into laws and scientific studies that personally affect you? Can you personally travel abroad to educate yourself on what is happening around the world? (And would you mind sharing that with the rest of us?) If one decides to only dig for themselves, then what about the person who is disadvantaged and cannot do so? Who is going to dig for them?
For the academics who will supposedly save us (and believe me, we need them more than ever), who will educate others about the financial shortfalls and political pressure they are experiencing in their classrooms and labs around the country? How will they be able to effectively share their discoveries? How will they be able to translate their scientific jargon to the general American public?
Pretending to be an ostrich or putting your head under the pillow is currently the most dangerous thing to do. I understand that one can only take so much political trauma before your mental health starts to be compromised. But that’s when it’s time to put your big girl or boy pants on and fight for what’s right. Do you want to look back on this time in our history and know that you didn’t do everything in your power to educate yourself and effect change in your community? Let’s take a lesson from civilization’s history and remember what happens when the general public remains silent.
We can definitely depend on ourselves and our community, but we all have to support ourselves financially. We have jobs that we need to show up for and families to take care of. We cannot take on the role of journalist and have the same access and clout as a national correspondent. That’s their job and that’s what they get paid to do.
It’s incredibly important to invest your money right now in the people who are here to protect you, your rights and our land. When we do not subscribe to a news organization by paying them, we are essentially asking them to work for us for free. Because they DO work for us, the American public.
Ask yourself, would you risk your life and work for free? The answer is no.
Throw your support behind your local newspaper. They make a difference. My local paper, the Post and Courier, received the Pulitizer Prize for public service for its series on South Carolina’s chronic and dangerous problem with domestic violence. Because of its work, it inspired its citizens to push lawmakers to enact new laws to protect victims of domestic violence. Or look to the tiny Storm Lake News and its Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writing coverage of how powerful agricultural interests were poisoning Iowa waterways.
While citizen actions may have brought about change eventually on their own, it wouldn’t have happened so quickly had it not been for the digging and tenacity of these journalists.
So, I want you to remember this. When you log on to Facebook or Twitter, and you read (the entire story, not just the headline) and share a news story, I want you to think about the time and energy that went into reporting that story. Some reporters have been threatened with violence, some have lost sleep and time with their families, and some have risked their health to bring you the stories that you read every day. Ask yourself, what I can do to repay you and your hard work?
In fact, I challenge you to not share any news article from a reputable source unless you already subscribe to a news magazine or newspaper. If you don’t currently, I suggest you write your check today.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and has been reprinted with permission.
Photo: John Wisniewski/Creative Commons