I didn’t plan on becoming a journalist. It was never my first answer when adults asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up. I stumbled into the field by the sheer fact that my high school newspaper needed writers to talk about school events. That was six years ago.
Last month, six years after my first article went to “print” (it was the beginning of the digital era, so the newspaper was more like a school blog), I walked across the stage at my college graduation with a degree in Journalism and a plan on going into Magazine Publishing. Again, I never planned on this being my life trajectory. I was dead-set on getting a business degree, with a comfortable 9–5 job and no worries about my future. Journalism has never been a set goal — it was something I always found myself drifting towards when my plans were falling apart and I needed a new outlet. I never expected to be one of two girls in my graduating class receiving that honor.
So what keeps drawing me back to this field? Is it the way one can use his or her voice to write about something that bothers them and have the capability to influence the world with the click of a button or the flip of a page? Is it the fast-paced rhythm, where no day is the same? Is it the unpredictability of it all, with uncertainty of how anything is going to turn out? Or is it a mix of all three? To this day, I still don’t know.
To me, being a journalist meant that you can exercise your right to the First Amendment of the Constitution. Being a journalist meant that you had the ability to have people look at a certain issue, present your side, and somehow convince your target audience to take in what you say and absorb it (whether they choose to agree with your stance or not is up to the reader). Being a journalist signified that you became part of an elite club, allowing you the opportunity to share your life experiences and give insight to the world around you.
But our world has changed rapidly from the time I first published an article in my high school newspaper. The world has physically become more violent, with more civilian shootings than I can count on both hands this year alone. Social media has taken such a big toll on our lives, with more and more people thinking that they need to express their opinions across Twitter or Instagram (*cough 45th President of the United States cough*). There are very few “journalists” out there anymore — it’s become all about citizen journalism, where one can simply whip out his or her phone and state that their opinion is fact, without the proper means to find out the actual truth.
The field that I never meant to be a part of has become all about the opinion and not about the facts.
As I sit typing this on my laptop, I look down at the front page of the local paper currently on my parents’ dining room table. The headline is about children being ripped away from their immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and held in “tender age shelters,” based off of President Trump’s legislation. I then glance at my phone, where my Twitter notifications are blowing up from every single opinion being put out there regarding this horrifying issue. Reporters are saying how their fellow reporters are wrong for their opinions and don’t know anything about what they are saying. Politicians are denouncing the Trump administration and trying to get other bills to pass in Congress to repeal this action. Celebrities put their own two cents as well, basically just reiterating the journalists and the politicians, depending on what political party they associate with. Even my former college peers are stating their opinions for the whole world to see and sharing articles that are not backed up with facts, but with hearsay!
As the child of an immigrant, I want to yell from the rooftops how heartbreaking this whole situation is. As a journalist, I want to find the right facts and figure out what the truth is from the “fake news.” And yet I struggle to say something on social media. I struggle even more to discuss this with my friends, due to my apolitical nature. With everyone feeling that they have the right to their opinion and a free-for-all, it leaves me with a burning question in the back of my mind: is the world prepared for a trained journalist or is the world about to tear apart my field of study?
I’ve spent many hours thinking about this question, most of the time in the middle of the night. I’ve wondered where the world of journalism is heading, and not in the age-old question of whether print is dying out (news flash: it’s not). I question what the role of a journalist is when everyone essentially has access to being their own journalist. That’s the definition of citizen journalism.
But with the general public thinking that they have the opportunity to become the next Walter Cronkite or Will McAvoy (yes — I did throw in a reference to the brilliant show that was The Newsroom) with the opening of a social media app, where does that leave the “trained” journalists? Where does it leave the writers who thirst for the truth — not just the likes or clickbait? Where does it leave someone like me? It’s a question to ponder. And it’s one that scares me out of my wits as I’m starting my career.
Knowing the way my life has played out, I’ll somehow find myself stumbling into the answer when I least expect it. I’ll eventually discover it when the next big scandal (whether entertainment or political will all depend on the time between this piece and the next headline) happens and I see another blow up of social media notifications on the lock screen of my iPhone. I hope by then that the world needs to run on facts and the truth.
An opinion is important, but without backing up claims, there is a loss of journalism.