Most of us have had that moment when something bad has happened and we thought,‘That could have been me.’
‘I almost went to that theater last night.’
‘I was in that store 30 minutes earlier.’
‘It could have been me; it could have been my family.’
For journalists, we have had at least 70 opportunities to that think this year.
The Wednesday morning shootings of Virginia journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward were the first this year in the United States; these two also have the distinction of being the only ones on the list who died while on the job, but not for doing their job.
The other 68 dead journalists died because of what they were investigating or whom they criticized, because murdering reporters has become a worldwide trend.
It’s a hard thing to realize: that our colleagues are being murdered while doing their jobs; that one day, it could be us.
Journalism tends to get a bad reputation. On television we’re portrayed as sleazy liars, backstabbing people to get the story. In real life we’re portrayed as Rupert Murdoch-types — stealing information for sensational headlines.
Are those things true of some of us? Sure, every profession has the jerks and the sneaks, the people who chose the career for the wrong reasons and give the rest of us a bad name.
Do we sometimes just get it wrong? Oh, yes. Both CNN and Fox News initially misreported the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on the Affordable Care Act, and any journalist at the Daily Lobo can give the headline and publication date of their biggest mistakes. As much as we try, we just plain screw it up now and then.
But for most of us, the job is about getting information out to the public. Whether it’s Watergate-Scandal-big or local-recreation-site-small, we’re just trying to inform the public.
We deliver that information because we believe in transparency. We believe that informed citizens are vital to a democracy. In fact, it’s such a strongly held belief that journalism is the only profession specifically mentioned as protected in the Bill of Rights.
And yet, journalists in Egypt are in hiding. The “Charlie Hebdo” building in France has tightened security. Managers at WDBJ in Virginia are considering a move toward secrecy when it comes to reporting locations. How can we do our jobs, how can we perform this public service, when we are always considered a public menace at best and a threat to national security at worst?
Do we stop talking about corrupt governments and cops who abuse their power? Do we stop covering live music and interesting research? Should we hide behind secure doors that will not open to the public and stop identifying ourselves when out in the field?
No. We shouldn’t. We should continue to do our jobs. We should continue to fight for transparency and information. And we should continue to remember: ‘It could have been me.’