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Good journalism still matters
jessica brown column
Jessica Taylor

When I arrived at high school as a timid freshman, I wasn’t sure where I fit in to the system. I was put into a technology class that I clearly showed no interest in. Thankfully to the finagling of my parents, they moved me into the journalism class – not my first choice as I desperately wanted to be in drama, but better than technology nonetheless.

My teacher and mentor, Derek Hon, taught me that nothing is more important than the truth, to tell your stories and find your voice.

At 14 years old I was inspired, even named Editor-in-Chief of our newly reinstated school newspaper – a title I held for three years. I also interned for my local paper, the Barrow County News, by photographing my high school’s sporting events.

At 15 years old, I began my professional journalism career with the Barrow Journal, serving as the staff photographer and columnist until I left in 2017 to join the Dawson County News. I’m 25 now and I’ve considered myself to be a journalist for over 10 years.

I’ve experienced great joys and pains in my career. I’ve watched my high school football team win their first game in years. I cried when I photographed troops hugging their teary-eyed children before they deployed to Afghanistan. I stood side by side with my local SWAT team as they completed training simulations. I’ve met and talked with so many countless, amazing people that will stay with me forever.

I tell you my story because so often we get wrapped up telling everyone else’s story in the community that it’s easy to forget that the byline you see in the paper is a real person, and usually a person who entered this career because of their passion to inform their communities.

Right now it’s truly a scary time for journalists. Our credibility is always in question. Our profession is looked down upon by many who call us scum, who believe we capitalize on other people’s heartaches and tragedies.

Like Mr. Hon taught me all those years ago: nothing is more important than the truth, and the truth is that we are human. We do our best to inform, spread awareness and bring you smiles. We want to keep you abreast of the happenings in our community because it’s important to not only you but to us as well.

With the news coming out of Annapolis, I am truly heartbroken for the five journalists who lost their lives.

It scares me to think we live in a world where my colleagues and I need to be fearful of doing our jobs. If we deliver anything less than perfection, we’re skewered by the public. If we write the wrong thing about the wrong person, what will happen? Will we get an angry call or will they storm our office and gun us down? Even more terrifying is that this is not the first, nor will it be the last, attack to target journalists.

The idea that journalism is so undervalued and journalists are seen as sensationalist scum appalls me.

The men and women who died at the Capital Gazette on June 28 were just that: men and women. They were doing their job to inform their community, a job that requires passion (because let’s be honest none of us are in this for the pay).

There was a time when journalism was valued. We were the watchdogs of the government, of society. Newspapers were pillars in communities; now we’re becoming relics slowly fading into antiquity.

In today’s climate of divisiveness, of distrust, of ignorance, I worry what the future holds for us thousands of journalists. The few faces on the TV screen that seem to stir the pot and sensationalize atrocities have become the poster children of an industry, and that is truly terrifying. The media as a collective group is viewed by our government body as leeches. That mentality trickles down further and further until you reach the younger generations, filled with apathy for the industry entirely.

I still believe what we do matters. There will always be a need for journalists to connect the community through stories and photography. In the years after we’re all dead and gone, our newspapers will be the lasting historical record of our communities.

For the thousands of journalists like me around the nation who have been shaken by this senseless tragedy, we will continue to do our jobs to serve our communities, secretly holding our breaths that we don’t anger the wrong person.

But that deep fear hidden in our hearts will not deter us from reporting the truth. In today’s society, there is nothing more important than the truth. We fell in love with sharing our communities, our homes, with the people who pick up our newspapers. The fear of our first amendment being violated by evil and hate will not stop us. It never has and it never will.