The road to becoming a professional journalist is only getting more difficult, and my first semester at Lehigh gave me a taste of what that journey would look like.
One of my first classes started with a conversation about the death of print journalism. Wide-eyed and alarmed, I scribbled in my notebook unsure of what I had gotten myself into.
Surely journalism was still relevant if Lehigh offered an entire program dedicated to its practice, principles and ethics. But how would I find a job if print circulation was on the decline? My short-lived uncertainty subsided with later conversations about the growth of the digital landscape.
In the weeks that followed, I was met with criticism from peers who claimed they did not understand the appeal of the “College of Arts and Crafts” or the value in being a journalism major. They questioned my ability to do anything worthwhile with what they deemed a dying art. I didn’t listen.
I quickly became part of The Brown and White’s editorial staff and signed myself up for not one, but what would become six semesters-worth of early morning interviews and late nights in the newsroom.
I never questioned if there was value behind what I was doing — I knew there was. But it wasn’t until now that I realized how truly valuable it is to pursue journalism as both a passion and profession.
The press is a crossroads, a turning point, a critical moment — however you put it, journalists in the United States are confronted with criticism, incredulity and, in some unfortunate cases, violence when simply trying to do their jobs.
Some of the criticism is warranted. Misinformation and media bias are widespread problems that, if remain unaddressed, will continue to have a profound impact on the way the public perceives and interprets information. It is up to journalists to change that, but their ability to do so is hindered when press freedoms are threatened.
Early last month, CNN reporter Jim Acosta was barred from the White House after refusing to relinquish the microphone in a heated press conference with President Donald Trump. What’s more, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, made false claims that Acosta placed his hands on the intern attempting to take the microphone from him.
While some might argue that Acosta instigated the suspension of his press credentials with his relentless questions, anyone who follows the Trump administration is familiar with the president’s disdain for any and every news publication that sheds light on his shortcomings and blatant disregard for the truth.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded perfectly to the incident in its statement that, “The White House belongs to the public, not the president, and the job of the press is to ask hard questions, not to be polite company.”
Additionally, anyone who watched the press conference could see that the video Sanders’ shared of the conference had been edited to make Acosta’s actions look more aggressive than they were in reality.
Trump loves to call credible news outlets “fake news,” meanwhile in September, The Washington Post’s fact checker found that Trump has made 5,000 false or misleading claims since the beginning of his presidency. The figure soared well above 6,000 by the end of October.
While I thought my journalism education and experiences on The Brown and White had given me a glimpse of the trials and tribulations of the press, I realize I have a lot more to learn — especially in today’s political climate, with a leader who has made the press out to be the enemy of the people.
Little does Trump know, the press is for the people.
The journalist’s first obligation is to the truth, and sharing that truth with the public. The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics specifies that journalists must be “honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”
There needs to be a greater emphasis on veracity rather than viewership. While gaining and maintaining readership is of utmost importance for spreading ideas and bringing in revenue for their publications, journalists need to return to their focus on thorough reporting rather than virality or sensationalism.
It is important to renew that focus now more than ever.
Although trust in the media is beginning to recover since its all-time low in 2016, we can still do better. It is not only the journalist’s responsibility to ensure the free exchange of information in our democracy is accurate and just, but it is also our duty to fight for that exchange of information to exist in the first place.
Trump has undoubtedly made the fight harder. Under his leadership, there are fewer formal news conferences and White House briefings. He makes fun of reporters with disabilities and even tells some that their questions are stupid.
In some ways, the press will always be under attack. Since it is our duty to serve as watchdogs of power, some people — especially those who have and seek that power — will always find fault with what we do, write and say. Pursuing the truth is a difficult task, but it is one we can’t abandon.
If my countless hours in the newsroom have taught me anything, it isn’t to give up — it’s to go forth and journalism.
Jessica Hicks, ’19, is the Editor in Chief for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].