I’ve known I wanted to be a journalist since I was 15. The marriage of words and photographs and being able to share people’s stories fascinated me.
The idea that a man like Edward R. Murrow sat on rooftops during the bombing of London during World War II's Battle of Britain because the people needed to be informed was inspiring to me, though, I’ll admit, it also made him sound nuts.
In college, as I studied English and political science to further my career as a journalist, my mother would often tell me: “Don’t think you need to be the next Christiane Amanpour and go off to report in war zones or something,” to which I’d usually laugh and say “We’ll see.”
Well, Mom. Guess what? In 2020, I don’t need to be a foreign correspondent to be endangered as a journalist. The American government and police forces across the country are bringing the war to the media as well as those exercising their First Amendment rights to protest injustice against the Black community.
A journalist in Minneapolis named Linda Tirado lost an eye from a rubber bullet while covering a Black Lives Matter protest. Numerous reporters have been tear-gassed, shoved into walls and hit with crowd control munition for simply reporting on protests, even here in Portland, Oregon, even after the mayor put out a notice saying media professionals were exempt from police action. (Just look at this article by The Washington Post for more info: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/journalists-at-several-protests-were-injured-arrested-by-police-while-trying-to-cover-the-story/2020/05/31/bfbc322a-a342-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html.)
Even then, I and many of my white peers, know these injuries sustained and threats made are a drop in the bucket of what the entire Black community has experienced for the last 400 years in America.
We see how even our peers of color are treated differently in these situations than we are.
I see how privileged I am to just cover a community that is not without its flaws but has yet to put me in a truly dangerous situation.
That said, I am afraid of what the rest of my career could look like. The anti-media rhetoric is strong right now in America, and greatly because of one man who has abused his rise to power and used it more for his own gain and to the detriment of the American people, including those who voted for him.
I am not afraid simply because I fear being jobless or forced out of a career I love. I chose this career to give voices to those who might otherwise not have them; I chose this career to educate those who otherwise might not know where to go for reliable information; I chose this career not for the glory of a byline but the space my words allowed those who’d otherwise shrink into the background to take up.
I am afraid of what happens to those voices if local journalists are not around to amplify them in a fair and balanced way. I’m afraid of what happens if local journalists are not around to sit in on those biweekly city council meetings and executive sessions and board meetings and hold elected representatives accountable.
In the main community I report for, the city recently did a survey to see if voters would vote to form an aquatics district. As part of the survey, contractors from Campbell DeLong Resources, Inc. asked those polled where they get their information from during election time. As expected, the most popular choice at 72% was the voter’s pamphlet, but in second place with 34% was the local newspaper of which I am the sole reporter.
I will never understand the experience of my peers and compatriots of color for I inherently have privilege they might not ever experience in their lifetimes.
What I do understand, and will continue to fight for as strongly as I fight for justice for my siblings of color, is that local journalism is one of the greatest tools to amplify the voices of the oppressed and marginalized. For that reason, I remain in this job (that is not well-paying by any means). I’m not a martyr. I, and many of my colleagues, still believe in a standard of journalism our president continues to claim doesn’t exist.
As the Washington Post says: “Democracy dies in darkness.” So, here I am, working to make sure I am continuously learning about other people’s perspectives and shine a light on the things people need to know.
Journalists are not your enemy. We’re part of your communities, setting aside our opinions, and – at times – safety, to keep you informed.