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This morning, I opened my newspaper and read the stories about the tragic killings in Connecticut. I knew about it yesterday, of course. There was no escaping the television reports and the terrible photos and the blogs and the status updates and tweets and conversations at the post office and the dairy aisle at the supermarket, but there came a point where I disengaged–as much as possible–from the constant stream of information and misinformation. This is something I do when the news gets to be too much. I don’t tune it out; I wait for the printed version. I wait to hear from the writers. I will not weigh in on my thoughts about guns or mental health care or any of the myriad issues that rise up in the wake of these tragedies. This is not the forum and, anyway, who cares what I think? But to the writers, to the journalists and publishers of traditional newspapers, I beg of you to keep doing what you are doing.
I worked as a print journalist for a brief period of time straight out of college. I wrote about tragic things including the deaths of children by gunshot, by drowning, by fire stoked with the kindling of poverty and greed. I sat through a capital murder trial in which the defendant had killed several members of his own family and left his infant niece paralyzed for life. There even came a time when I got to utter those thrilling words, “Stop the presses!” And, yes, it was because a child had died. The thing is, sometimes I got bad information or incomplete information or good information that I couldn’t confirm right away. It was frustrating. Sometimes we went to press knowing that our story was incomplete, that we’d be scooped by the morning newscasters, who could continue to track down sources right up until the moment they went on the air. Our job, we told ourselves, was to provide depth and perspective, not just information. Our job was to write the truth.
Now, with citizen journalists, bloggers, social media, and 24-hour news cycles, we want information and we want it now. We are drowning in the shallows. Even the purveyors of the printed page participate in online blogging and up-to-the-minute reporting that may or may not become part of the story that makes it to the page. I don’t believe any of this is bad, though much of it proves inaccurate as time passes. That’s the thing about reporting something before you’ve had to time to confirm the facts. You are often wrong. Of course, the printed page is sometimes wrong, as well. It does seem to me, though, that writers are more likely to pause and think about what they are writing if the final version will be printed in ink. There are financial considerations in the printing process. There is the knowledge that you can’t erase errors with a few strokes on a keyboard. I appreciate that. I would rather wait for good information, solidly researched and from a trusted media source, than to receive a confusing mishmash of escalating half truths and unconfirmed facts from a variety of random people. I want more than just information, I want truth.
So, thank you to the journalists writing for newspapers across this country. There are too few of you and your jobs are at risk every single day. What you do is hard and often heartbreaking and always undervalued. Too many people now believe that any information presented in any format by anyone counts as news. I say it doesn’t. It’s information, right or wrong, but the real news comes from the writers who dig deep, fact check and work hard to find the right words under deadline pressure and personal grief. These journalists, these writers, provide more than information. They bring us depth and perspective and room to breathe. At their very best, which is often when we are experiencing the very worst, they write the truth.