To put it mildly, journalists are not the most beloved group in society. They never have been. We show up to tell you all sorts of unpleasant truths about life, society, your leaders and yourselves.
“Good afternoon. The mayor’s a crook, the governor is owned by special interests, your city is broke and your water polluted.”
“The country is involved in a ridiculous war it isn’t winning, your child is getting a lousy education, your roads will cost billions to fix and your representatives sold out to corporate interests. By the way, your kids are binge drinking and you are too fat. Have a nice day.”
It’s no wonder people aren’t all that happy when they see us coming. Like any other profession or family, we also have our share of black sheep. Journalists who lie or make things up are very rare, but nobody forgets it when they do.
Far more journalists concentrate on the trivial at a time when it is vitally important that we make the significant interesting. That’s why we know all about the Kardashians. The Detroit media have given the forced retirement of a basketball general manager more time, space and attention than the world crisis in Ukraine.
But most journalists in this state toil away, working harder than most people for generally small salaries, to bring crucial information to light and tell you what you need to know.
Worse, they do so at a time of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty in their own profession. I was reminded of this last night, when I went to the Society of Professional Journalists annual award banquet, in the Detroit suburb of Troy.
This was an especially happy occasion for me because Michigan Radio’s own Lindsey Smith won the award as young journalist of the year, beating out two people from far bigger institutions who have been covering business and bankruptcy.
She won largely for what I think has been incredible coverage of the deeply flawed charter school company running Muskegon Heights schools. Journalism banquets are not high-frill affairs. Attendees at this one were cautioned to leave the plants on the table because they had to be returned to a store after the event.
When I looked around I was struck by how many people were not there because they had been laid off by media companies, especially newspapers, who’ve been devastated by the changing economic realities of the industry. Some award winners weren’t there because they work at places whose staffs are so thin they couldn’t take the night off to get their awards. Others have jobs so precarious they don’t know if they’ll be there next year. But they keep on doing what they do.
Last night’s honorees included Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press, whose in-depth columns on government are often the best in the state, and Jerry Green of the Detroit News, an Ivy League graduate who for 59 years has been our best example of a thinking man’s sportswriter.
You may not realize it, but our society, democracy and freedom depend on the folks who were there last night. I’m glad they let me work with them.