November 2016: Meeting challenges head on

Like many of you, I left our Conference and Mentoring Program in Roanoke last month invigorated by great programming, refreshed by seeing friends old and new, and, maybe, a bit overfed!

The job of a working journalist can be a struggle. The pay isn’t always great, the hours are unpredictable and newsrooms have been cut to the bone in the last decade as the media’s business model is dissolved by all that is “free” on the Internet. That struggle is especially true for women and people of color, who are less likely to get the job, the pay raise, the promotion to management.

But we love our work – the excitement of breaking news, providing information the audience needs to function in a democracy, the chance to tell the stories of people from those in poverty to those in power.

That’s why Journalism and Women Symposium is so important. It gives us a forum to build relationships and coalitions with others, to seek advice and to offer it, to share and promote each other’s successes and to counsel each other in difficult times.

For me, it was great to see two former students attend their first JAWS CAMP. A week or so after CAMP, one friend named Rachel, in Albuquerque, announced the hiring of another friend named Rachel, from Denver.

But as CAMP wound down, I noticed tweets from a Colorado reporter friend who covered a presidential rally on Saturday. She’d been commended by one rally-goer on her ability to speak English, even though it’s the only language she speaks. And she was verbally assaulted on Twitter after accurately quoting a rally participant’s volunteered statement.

With the recent election, we’re seeing more indirect and direct assaults on individuals around the nation, not just in the media. The attacks target people’s religion, nationality, ethnicity, skin color, gender, gender identity and more.

As journalists, we face an administration that mocks individual members of the press, appears determined to limit access even more than the current administration and threatens lawsuits over coverage with which they disagree.

As investigative journalist Betty Medsger recently wrote to the JAWS email list (and I quote her with permission): “As journalists we now need to prepare to cover a country, including and especially the … administration itself, where the importance of truth — the finding and reporting of which are journalists’ reason for being — has been greatly diminished. What do journalists and people who teach journalism do about this situation? I think it presents a huge challenge to the core of our purpose, a challenge we must face.”

We must meet these challenges head on.

Indeed, we must continue to fight for the public’s right to information about their government, for freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom for all religions.

We must continue to shine light not just on those voters the media “overlooked” but, more importantly, on acts of bigotry and hate.

We must listen to those we don’t know and listen more closely to those we think we do know.

And it is essential that in the days, weeks and months to come that we continue to support one another and look out for one another.

As JAWS members, let us stay true to our mission to work toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society. And let us live up to the quote on first county building I covered as a journalist.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

– Sandra Fish