What have journalists done for you lately?

In the past few days, I’ve consumed a lot of journalism. Some of it is the kind of information that can be found all over the place, from any number of news outlets. Is Florida in for its first tropical storm of the season? What should I know about Hillary Clinton’s email? How’s Serena doing at the French Open?

When you ask people about “journalism” or “the media” (maybe my least-favorite two words of all time), they often think first about these sorts of stories. But “journalism” and even “news” encompass so much more. People consume a lot of journalism without realizing they’re doing it, and certainly without considering the investment needed to produce it. (I wrote more about perceptions of “news” a couple of weeks ago.)

Journalists are justifiably frustrated that people don’t respect where all that information comes from. But complaining doesn’t fix the problem.

Instead, we need to do a better job communicating our value. What makes us credible sources of information? What do we offer that helps people live their lives? Why are we worth peoples’ investment of time and money? (That’s one of the questions at the core of a project I’m working on to do with using social media to build trust.)

Here’s a look at 8 pieces of journalism I’ve consumed in the last few days. Turns out “the media” have helped me understand my world, my country, my community and my family.

  1. Maggie Menderski at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote about a huge development being planned for a spot just 10 minutes from my house. She got the scoop at a retail conference in Las Vegas. Sending her to Nevada represents an investment of manpower and dollars on the part of my local newspaper. Don’t we want journalists keeping an eye on projects that shape our communities’ growth?
  2. Another Herald-Tribune reporter, Shelby Webb, took a deep dive into our local public school district’s rate of expulsions. Sarasota has a higher rate of “expulsion without educational services” than any other district in Florida. That’s a controversial fact that deserves unpacking, and doing so takes massive time. Do you want journalists telling you about how kids in your community are educated?
  3. Jessica Contrera at The Washington Post goes deep with the screen habits of a 13-year-old girl. I eat stories like this up because I love learning about how other people use technology. It’s vital for anyone who produces things consumed on screens. It’s also important for parents trying to keep tabs on kids’ screen use. Stories like this take so much time — finding the right family to work with, gaining trust, earning access and then spending enough time with them that you can authentically represent their lives/habits. Are you interested in journalism to help you understand other peoples’ lives and how the world is changing? (Also, this companion piece about teen jargon is hilarious.)
  4. Emerald O’Brien produced a story for KBIA, the NPR station in my former city of Columbia, Mo., about the mystery behind a payphone downtown and why it would often ring late at night. It’s truly delightful and completely rooted in an understanding of a local community. Do you enjoy stories that make you look differently at the place you call home?
  5. The National Public Radio podcast “Embedded” dedicated an episode to the operations of Doctors Without Borders at the largest refugee camp in South Sudan, where there are two doctors overseeing 170 beds. The reporters spent a week there. More than 120,000 South Sudanese live in a compound that “looks like a post-apocalyptic prison.” U.N. peacekeepers and razor wire line the borders of the camp, hoping to keep residents safe from the civil war raging around them. Even if you don’t listen to this, I bet you want journalists to shine a light on what humanity looks like in corners of the world most people don’t pay attention to?
  6. Judging from the share count, I’m not the only person delighted by this Vox video interview with a 6-year-old speller (the youngest at the national bee this year). He’s seriously amazing. He spells a word I’ve never heard, then explains how he does it. This piece of journalism celebrates being smart. And cute. Don’t we all appreciate stories that restore our faith in the next generation?
  7. The Guardian’s Lois Beckett went to the NRA’s annual convention in Kentucky. She was denied a press credential and therefore had to covers the event from the outside. But she asked this provocative question of attendees: What do liberals get wrong about guns? Do you see the value of stories that invite people to bust myths or challenge assumptions?
  8. And finally, the New York Times told me everything I need to know about grilling season (but not how to win the charcoal-vs-gas argument with my husband). How about a little love for journalism that makes your dinners better?

I don’t much care whether news consumers call all of this “news” or even “journalism.” But I do care that they understand this all falls under the umbrella of “the media.” And it all takes an investment on the part of an organization or an individual. None of it comes free.

If journalists want people to value their work, they need to work on telling its story.


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