Holly Hubbard Preston is a journalist. Increasingly that profession sparks more skepticism than respect, as the distinction between Edward R. Murrow and Gawker is blurred.
I was lunching with relatives when a friend of theirs walked up. As introductions were made and the gentleman learned I was a journalist, his tone changed. Leveling his gaze he said, “So you’re one of them.”
It was the third time in a year I’ve been called out for being a journalist. Each time it happens it leaves me speechless: I expect this when I travel to places where a free press is not valued, but not at home.
I know there are hack journalists out there, but they are the exception. The reporters I know have degrees in journalism. Like me, they took classes in law and ethics as well as news writing and reporting—where the evils of editorial sensationalism and misinformation were hammered home regularly.
The digital age has not been kind to traditional journalism or its legitimacy. Nowadays anyone with a computer can self-identify as a journalist. Meanwhile, online media organizations spring up overnight, making it ever harder to separate legitimate news gatherers from activists and propagandists.
This means we all need to take care. If something appears as “news” then it should be just that. Editorials are for opinions and commentary. Objectivity is not easy to maintain but it is the goal legitimate journalists strive for, and the public should hold us to that.
Media freedom may be a right but it’s not a guarantee. Even in America, journalists struggle to do their jobs. Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit that tracks media freedom worldwide, currently ranks the United States 43rd out of 180 countries.
The next time someone thinks to dismiss my profession, perhaps I’ll summon the Founding Fathers who created the First Amendment for a reason: a free press equals free thought. A democracy cannot exist without either.
With a Perspective, I’m Holly Preston Hubbard.
Holly Hubbard Preston is journalist on sabbatical to write a novel about real and imagined walls in the former East Germany.