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We Are Journalists. Let's Keep It to Ourselves. We Are Journalists. Let's Keep It to Ourselves.

We Are Journalists. Let's Keep It to Ourselves.

by Amanda Hess
November 17, 2011

We are tired of bad press about the press. We are trying to be 'team players.' We are terrified of more layoffs and paycuts. We would like to produce quality work without 'obamasux99' posting some non-sequitur rant at the end of it. . . . We would like some respect, plz. We are journalists.

This is the mission statement of We Are Journalists, the latest online movement in the tradition of the 99 Percent: Reveal your inner life in the hopes of getting a little bit of public recognition. "I keep a spare pair of boots in my car in case I have to go traipsing through a crime scene, and a pencil in case I’m outside and my pens freeze," one typical journalist informs readers. "I send text messages in AP style."

It's no revelation that journalists can also claim membership to the We Are Dull At Parties movement. Read on, though, and the boasting grows more troubling. "I’ve talked to people who are making funeral plans for their children," the crime scene-traipsing journalist continues. A colleague chimes in that she has "seen police pull a duffel bag filled with body parts out of the Hudson River." Writes another, "I find writing about people dying incredibly hard but love the challenge of getting the news out first and then summing everything up to camera in a maximum of 80 seconds ready for mobile-phone ready TV." Another journalist has "interviewed a mother who gave childbirth in an alley and promptly abandoned it in her drug-induced stupor, leaving the baby to die."

We've talked to people with dead kids, we've seen police recover bodies, we've written about people who are dying, we've interviewed a drug-addicted new mother. Do none of these professional observers realize that we are on the more agreeable side of this equation? For our sources, the story is personal tragedy. For us, it's a professional accomplishment. Now, we're using our sources' lives to embellish our own career mythos.

Yes, many of us have all-consuming, insecure jobs. And while we may be underpaid compared to peers who went the banker or lawyer route, journalists don't live in poverty. Plus, almost all of us hold highly prestigious positions in society, all things considered. (This is not "We Are Garbage Collectors.") It's true that we face criticism from all sides for our work. But would any of us disagree with the dominant critiques—that we can be biased in our reporting, influenced by powerful companies, and often inaccurate? Even our Pulitzer Prize-winners plagiarize and hang on to their jobs. I worked for a television station recently that routinely misspelled its own reporters' names when we appeared on screen. Many of us are trying our best, and sometimes that's really not good enough

Have we forgotten the lessons of Spider-Man so quickly? With great power comes great responsibility, and our responsibility includes accepting Obamasux99's lingering incoherence in exchange for the opportunity to hold court in every newspaper, magazine, website, television station, and mobile device in the world. Really, Obamasux99 is not so different from us journalists. Railing against the powerful is kind of our jam. And in that vast comments section of the world, it is our voices that rise to the top. 

This is the major distortion of We Are Journalists: The idea that we are somehow voiceless. How could we possibly be more heard? We have the power to frame how the death of a parent's child is broadcast to the world. Now, we're complaining because we're forced to, what—speak to these people? Maybe the next meme should be "We Spoke to a Journalist." That sounds a lot harder than what I do every day.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user RogueSun Media