As I set out to get coffee this morning my eyes had trouble adjusting to the bright morning light after burning the midnight oil for the past few days. My brain was churning with the right words and the right questions to ask for one of the bigger stories on my plate, and I fumbled through my bag for my sunglasses as I backed out of my driveway.
I kicked my butt-kicking week off with a planning and zoning meeting on Monday night that lasted until after 11, then I woke up before the sun on Tuesday to get my daughter to school early for morning announcements.
It’s not that I’m not proud that my 10-year-old signed up for her school’s morning news team, I just wish she’d signed up to do it on a week that I wasn’t set to pull four all-nighters in a row. Those 7 a.m. call times were a killer when I wasn’t in bed before midnight.
Tuesday was a tempest in its own right with a phone interview on the side of the road while I was on my way to a last-minute meeting with a major source I’d been chasing. Then it was back-to-back transportation, planning and zoning, and city council meetings and then a quick photo shoot at the high school choir concert. I made it to the high school just as everyone was leaving, so I treated myself to a burger at Longhorn Cafe while I reviewed my notes and tried one more time to reach out to another source.
I drove home in the dark, but I’d be home by 9:15, which was the earliest bedtime I’d have all week.
The rest of the week was a whirlwind of chasing leads and trying to simultaneously untangle and reweave the pieces of a story that started out as a simple city council meeting update. All the while I was juggling softball games, doctor’s appointments and checking in on a friend who I realized might not be doing as well as she appeared on Facebook.
Facebook is actually what ignited a lot of fires for me this week. It’s where I found a lot of people were getting information and confusing that for real news.
I’m no stranger to the big blue feeding trough myself. Scrolling through all my social media feeds is my favorite way to let my brain unwind after a long day. Twitter is my absolute favorite guilty pleasure, and my claim to fame is being retweeted once by Joyce Carol Oates.
But I realized as much as I love it, social media is actually killing journalism. And I’m as guilty of holding the knife as anyone.
Social media has been an absolute game changer in connecting human beings together, and some of the greatest social movements and positive stories have been made possible by outlets like Face-book, Twitter and Instagram. And, of course, when I want to know what’s going on in the world I sign on and check trending hashtags to find out why #area51 is newsworthy all of a sudden.
But so much of those little social snippets are compromised with misinformation and quick jump-the-gun assumptions. The real news is being buried in the sludge. And the work of real journalists is often overshadowed by the loud voices shrieking for attention to get the most likes and shares.
I came through the College of Journalism just as social media was starting to bud, and although the bags under my eyes tell a different tale, I’m actually not that old. The age of social media dominance is relatively new. And with that has come a new wave of chaos.
I saw first-hand this week how social media can stir up a storm, and how real journalism can actually help to part the clouds. It’s frustrating to me when people say newspapers are dead and reporters are “fake news” because there are so many of us out here in the trenches truly trying to sort through the muck for you.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some attention-seeking sensational voices out there parading as “reporters.” But those people aren’t real journalists.
The way to tell a true journalist isn’t by how big of a controversy he or she can stir up, but rather someone who braves the storm to find the light. It’s not the loud talking heads screaming from behind a screen, but rather the earnest silence of a writer sitting at the back of the room just listening.
This week was hard. I am tired. But it was one of the best and most gratifying I’ve had in a long time. I stumbled into a storm, but I truly felt like I was able to grab hold of the truth in the middle and shed a tiny ray of light through the clouds.
And it’s not that everything is rainbows on the other end. In fact there is still darkness and uncertainty in this story. But here in the wee hours that are my night and your morning, as I once again run a fine comb over what will soon become birdcage liner, I feel a sense of pride. I feel like I might have made a difference today using just the tools of my trade. And maybe it’s just the sun starting to peek over the horizon, but today just feels brighter already.