In an era when mainstream journalists like myself hear the term “fake news” thrown at our work, it was nice to hear a Washington Post editor confirm the importance of our profession.
“What does it mean to be a journalist, a truth teller, in 2019?” Tracy Grant asked.
“It has always been essential. It’s not more essential now,” she said. “This career is protected by the Constitution. Think about that.”
“There’s always big stories,” Grant said. “What journalists do is craft the first rough draft of history. Journalism is the work of history. It was 200 years ago and will be 200 years from now.”
Grant, the Washington Post’s managing editor for staff development and standards, was the speaker at Thursday’s Ann Devroy Memorial Forum at UW-Eau Claire.
Devroy, a UW-Eau Claire graduate, was a White House correspondent for 15 years with the Washington Post. She died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 49.
I was introduced to journalism by a high school English teacher in Wausau, who must have seen something I didn’t. Heck, I was planning to be an accountant.
The teacher, Greg Venne, encouraged me to take a journalism class he taught when I was a sophomore. He then pushed me to join the student newspaper at the school.
He even steered me to attend UW-River Falls to pursue a journalism degree. The fact that he was a UW-River Falls graduate himself probably had a lot to do with that.
But that push from a teacher has led, come this June, to a 39-year career as a print journalist.
Grant basically said that stories come and go, but the foundation of a journalist’s work stays the same.
When I went to work for the first time in June 1980 for a weekly newspaper in St. Croix Falls, my goal was to be fair and accurate.
Today, when I go to work at the Leader-Telegram, something I’ve done for more than 37 years, my goal is still to be fair and accurate while telling a story and providing our readers with important information.
The only agenda my colleagues and I have when we go about our daily work is to be fair and accurate.
I remember several years ago when people on both sides of an issue I was covering were criticizing my reporting.
A co-worker said that if people on both sides were critical, that meant I was probably being fair with my coverage.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that.
The digital age has made our job tougher. Anybody can start a website, put their opinions on it and call it news.
That’s why people need to focus on the mainstream media for fairness and accuracy. If you trusted a news organization 10, 20 or 30 years ago, you still can likely trust that news organization today.
Grant made me feel better about the future of my profession when she indicated that both the Washington Post and the New York Times, when you combine print and online subscriptions, have more subscribers now than ever before.
“People are realizing that trusted news sources matter,” she said. “Journalism protects you. You should protect journalism.”
I couldn’t agree more.