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Monthly Archives: June 2012

By Reid Wright

I have resigned my position at the Cortez Journal and will be taking an indefinite break from journalism to rest and refocus — leaving a troubled profession as a troubled man.

It was the only job I ever cared about.

But before fading into obscurity as another burned-out refugee escaping one of the hardest occupations of our time, I would like to share my thoughts and experiences in the hopes that they can be learned from.

The biggest pressure of course, came from a lack of time and resources. The crunch of the deadline and chronic understaffing left me stretched thin beyond the point of effectiveness. I was writing summary lead after summary lead, and without time to fact check, made my fair share of mistakes. One day, the realization came that I had become the very type of journalist I used to criticize.

I faced the decision of attempting to cover many stories poorly, or turn down coverage stories that are important to the community. I could do neither in good conscious.

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We are raised from childhood to believe that in every story there is a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” Through indirect pressure from my superiors, readers and society as a whole, it felt like it was my job to find a “bad guy” for the front page. Be it a criminal, politician, flawed celebrity or average person who made a mistake — there is a human need to target a “bad guy” so we can feel like the “good guy” in the world.

In reality, we are all flawed and perfectly capable of being both.

Sometimes, I bore the label of antagonist. It was an unspoken rule that during hard times at the paper, “good” news was the first to be cut. At times, I felt like the grim reaper, only showing up when something bad happened. Over time, I began to be welcomed as such. It was subtle — a curl of the lip or an averted gaze — but I could tell when someone was unhappy. They would say that their lives had been ruined because I had written about them. Every once in awhile, I believed them.

In the end, I was too haunted by the mantra of “do no harm.”

From the perspective of a newsy, It seems our society is becoming increasingly negative and quick to blame. While it is human nature to want to attribute a tragedy to a single person or issue, the reality is that we live in a chaotic universe and sometimes the right combination of elements come together for shit to happen in a catastrophic way. The true complexity of an incident or issue can rarely be done justice in a short news article.

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Lastly, I found it somewhat futile to be an objective source of information in an increasingly subjective world. I was flabbergasted to get several complaints on articles not for what I had written, but for how others had perceived what I had written. For example, I covered a stabbing case where the incident happened at a woman’s home when she had people over to help her move and they were in the kitchen having beer and pizza. I had described the event as a “gathering,” but her parents had read the article and asked her why she was having a “party.” Without ever reading the article, she called me and accused me of not having my facts straight.

I had a lengthy conversation recently with a gentleman who was concerned that my publication is too liberal in its political coverage. I tried to explain to him that there is a group of people down the street who would say it is too conservative in its coverage, and that if I write from the middle, both sides will accuse me of bias. But in the end, we both walked away unconvinced.

It was a common accusation during my time as a reporter that I “liked” certain individuals or groups of people and disliked others. The horrible truth was that I was indifferent and didn’t get close enough for them to get under my skin either way. In all my years, I’ve only encountered a handful of individuals special enough to get under my skin enough to truly like or dislike, and those people were never written about.

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I don’t have any answers as to the future of journalism. Technology and social media such as that used during the Iranian elections, Arab Spring, and the Kony 2012 movements have proven that anyone is capable of getting their message out without traditional media. My only assertion is that we are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. The information pollution is thick enough, and only gets thicker higher up the political and economic ladder.

Traditional journalists will always have a role to serve, although it may not ever be the same. There will always be a need for those who take large amounts of information and process it into a form that is both understandable and accessible to the public. There will also always be a need for dedicated watchdogs and truth seekers.

As for me, I will always be a journalist, whether or not I get paid for it. I’m hardwired and the need to know the truth runs too deep in my veins — painful though it may be.

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