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Do we still really need news reporters anymore?

In our area, most schools have some kind of garden for the kids to tend. Along with agriculture and botnay, gardens teach lessons about patience, persistence, and teamwork. You can even have the kids prep, package, and sell their produce after the harvest and teach them how to make change for customers for some integrated math.

Gardens also teach kids something that you may not realize they need to know: That food comes from somewhere. It doesn’t just get picked off the warehouse shelves along with iPhone components and graphic T-shirts (which also come from somewhere, of course, but that’s a matter for another day). Seems obvious, but many kids and even some adults never stop and think about it. They see food at the supermarket, and they sort of halfway imagine that it began its life inside a little package of plastic and styrofoam.

It may only be young kids and obtuse adults who need to be educated about the idea that food has to be farmed, harvested, processed, packaged, and shipped before they ever see it. But a good many adults who don’t consider themselves obtuse do think that the news they read online just appears on their screen, pre-packaged, materializing out of nowhere.

And so you see folks who still, after all these years, keep saying that the age of the newspaper is over. We have national or even global news aggregators who can deploy data-collecting bots to find and even write the stories that people really need to know, and it appears before us, all packaged up and ready to consume. who needs those retrograde reporters anymore?

My husband is a reporter. It wasn’t until he’d worked at this career for many years before I really realized how indispensable are people like him.

When you see a story on the TV news or in a larger newspaper, chances are someone has put years of work into that story long before you were ever even aware it existed. Why years? Because when you are a reporter, you don’t just show up at work in the morning and find a list of things to write about. The writing is only the very last step. Long before that, you are responsible for several things:

-Understanding what the people in that community are actually concerned about;
-Understanding what kind of story your editor and publisher want your paper to circulate;
-Getting to know who, in your community, has information that no one else has;
-Getting to know how to signal to those people that they can entrust that information with you;
-Learning how to figure out which information is reliable and which information will take you on a wild goose chase that wastes your entire day and/or gets you sued;
-Learning when to intimidate people and when to allow others to believe they’ve intimidated you;
-Learning how to verify things that seem too good to be true, and having the discipline to leave out details you know are true but can’t verify;
-Learning which stories are things the public really needs to know, even if it will annoy someone important, which things the public wants to know but maybe isn’t entitled to (like domestic abuse situations), and which things the public doesn’t care about but ought to, because it affects them more than they realize;
-Learning how to do favors for people so that they will be willing to do favors for you in the future;
-Learning how to write certain stories in such a way that, when the time comes, they will be willing to trust you with information in the future so you can write other, more important stories;
-Learning how to be compassionate with crazy people, suffering people, and people in unimaginable crisis, and still get the facts of the story without exploiting them;
-Learning how to hang up the phone, take a deep breath, and keep on going when people call you every name in the book, threaten and insult you, and try to get you fired just for doing your job; and
-Learning how to spend the day hip deep in tragedy, horror, and the hideous evils that are buried in every human society, and then go home and ask your kids how was school today.

And then comes the actual writing.

You have to learn the stylistically correct way to refer to a thousand different people and situations; you have to convey the truth of subtle situations without editorializing; you have to learn how to make a dull story interesting and an interesting story airtight. You have to learn how to convey complicated stories with lots of history in a way that careless, uninformed, uneducated, prejudiced readers can comprehend. And you have to do it on a deadline. You have to do this every single day.

This is the kind of work that doesn’t win you prizes or acclaim. It’s just what a decent reporter does.

There are lots of terrible reporters in the world, guys and gals who just slap together whatever falls into their laps. They hit their word count, put their byline on it, and call it “news.” But real news starts way, way back at the farm, where people like my husband are laboring every day.

News doesn’t just appear, fully packaged, in the form most people encounter it. And that’s why, internet or no internet, there will always be a need for newspapers. Someone has to be there, cultivating news stories by hand, one by one.

 ***
photo credit: Jürg The both read – for free via photopin (license)

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