Why Our Work Still Matters
Last February, a troubled boy in Ohio made international headlines after he walked into the cafeteria of Chardon High School and opened fire, killing three students and injuring two others.
Almost immediately, rumors were outrunning facts on social media sites, particularly on Twitter and Facebook. In an effort to thwart the spread of misinformation, I started posting links to The Plain Dealer on my Facebook page, which is open to the public and has over 90,000 subscribers.
Moderating comments became a full-time job that day. So many well-meaning readers posted one rumor after another in the comments section. Repeatedly, I removed unconfirmed snippets and reminded everyone that we were not going to traffic in hearsay, but rely on newspaper reporting. As I continued to post Plain Dealer updates, it occurred to me that Facebook is yet another way to be an activist for journalism. I am no longer employed at The Plain Dealer, but I remain a champion of its best work. The paper’s coverage of the Chardon shootings was a showcase of responsible and relentless reporting.
I talk about being an activist for journalism a lot these days. For most traditional journalists, the word summons loathsome images of political partisanship and conflicts of interest. Having spent most of my career in a newsroom, I also know that self-promotion is not typically in the journalist’s playbook. Our work is supposed to speak for itself; we’re above the unseemly practice of self-promotion.
To which I respond: Not if we want to survive.
Our passive relationship with readers worked well when most Americans turned to newspapers to find out what was going on. Let’s avoid rehashing all that has changed and address our immediate concern: If we believe in what we’re doing, then we must be willing to promote our work, and our values.
One of the easiest ways to promote our profession is through social media.
Nearly every day, I host discussions on Facebook that start with links to stories by traditional news organizations. The point is obvious: Let’s begin with the research by a trained professional. This is not to say I’m never critical of coverage, or expect everyone to pay homage to a profession they love to revile. I’m just an activist for journalism, illustrating one post at a time why our work still matters.
Join me, won’t you?
Connie Schultz is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and Parade Magazine and has been Visiting Faculty at Poynter.
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