×

I am thankful for journalists, and for being one

“I am a journalist, and I’ve never met, as a group, any tribe I’d rather be part of or that are more fun to be with — in spite of the various punks and sycophants of the press. I’m proud to be part of the tribe.”

— Hunter S. Thompson

Years ago, I gave a talk to a journalism class at Albion College.

At one point, I asked the students why they wanted to be journalists, and some of their responses were disappointing.

“I like seeing my name in print,” said one.

“I like digging up dirt on people,” said another.

I have no idea where those kids are today, but I can almost guarantee they’re not journalists. People who get into this business for the wrong reasons tend not to last.

It is, without question, the best gig in the world. But it’s grueling work.

The pay has never been good, even when newspapers were flush with cash. And, nowadays, journalists have to watch things like the Gannett-GateHouse merger and wonder if they’re one of the “inefficiencies” the blind corporate execs claim to see from all the way in Virginia.

You get yelled at by readers. You get yelled at by sources. You get yelled at by your editor. You have to stand in a freezing rain, choking on smoke from the house fire you’re supposed to be covering, though the rain is melting your notebook right before your eyes and your pen won’t work in the cold.

You don’t put up with that kind of stuff if you’re in this for personal glory or vendetta, so you find another job — usually in public relations. Or your editor sniffs out your wrongheaded motivations (usually because work is poorly done if done for the wrong reasons) and forces you into another gig — usually in public relations.

The journalists who were in this line of work when I started and are still chugging along today all got into it for essentially the same reason: They wanted to make the world a better place, and they see journalism — holding the powerful to account, giving voice to the voiceless, scoring the first record of history — as the best (and, honestly, most fun) means to that noble end.

Each believes that every story has a right to be told, that every wayward soul deserves a voice, and I’ve seen all of them work 20-hour days, miss family events, and get called in off vacations to make sure that happens.

The national media gets a lot of flak for its supposed bias, but each of those reporters came from somewhere. Reporters I worked alongside in Battle Creek and know to be admirable people are now at newspapers in Louisville, Cincinatti, Milwaukee, Houston, and New York.

I’m not much for conferences, because they don’t suit my hands-in-the-dirt learning style, but some of the most fun I’ve ever had was drinking at the bar after conference sessions, trading stories with journalists from places like the L.A. Times, the Charleston (South Carolina) Post and Courier, and USA Today.

I wish our critics could have joined us to hear our liquor-loosed lips talk not of taking down one political party or another or advancing some agenda, but of the frustrations of not being able to cover more because of shrinking newsrooms or of the stories that didn’t come together because certain facts couldn’t be confirmed.

Yes, there was some politician-bashing, but it was always bipartisan.

This is probably true of any profession, but journalism really seems to draw a rag-tag bunch of folks from all walks of life. I’ve worked alongside people who grew up in wealthy families and earned master’s degrees from prestigious universities and also alongside people who came straight out of farm country and earned their degrees at state colleges and others still who, like me, jumped from factories or retail or car washes straight into cub reporter posts.

There are music nuts and baseball fans and comic book nerds and recovering alcoholics and former Peace Corps volunteers and passionate Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists in newsrooms all across America.

You may have noticed small ads running in The News, providing brief biographical sketches of our journalists: Crystal Nelson the gardener, James Andersen the vinyl record collector, Darby Hinkley the hiker, Jonny Zawacki the pitcher, Julie Goldberg the Netflix binge-watcher, Julie Riddle the podcast listener, Meakalia Previch-Liu the national parks explorer, and Steve Schulwitz the Vegas vacationer.

All those many paths leading to notebook and pen, trying to make the world a better place.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for journalists, in all their stripes, and thankful I get to count myself among the tribe.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.