A common excuse for all kinds of work-related errors often falls under the aspect of “they were just doing their job.” This applies to all sorts of occupations in highly varying degrees. Sometimes tired students with part time jobs in sales get screamed at by frustrated customers. Sometimes brave police officers get shot in the line of duty. And sometimes, curious journalists travel overseas and are taken hostage and punished in the most inhumane ways.
What Makes a Good Journalist?
Essential personal assets that make a good journalist include independence and initiative, driven by a natural curiosity. They are interested in current events and bringing important issues to light. Which is what would lead them to leave their home countries at some point in their career to go overseas where violent and harsh issues are always taking place. With so many different laws in these third world countries, even the local reporters are arrested frequently for prying into government conspiracies and general negative issues that are otherwise kept secret.
Two employees of California’s Current TV, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were arrested in North Korea for alleged hostile acts and illegal entry into the country. Due to the work of organizations like Reporters Without Borders they were freed months later. Assistant news editor of the Nigerian independent newspaper The Guardian, Bayo Ohu, was assassinated in his home in front of his six children. His killers took only his cell phone and computer – which led the International Press Institute to believe his death was linked to his job. In Guinea, two different France-based media crews have been denied access into the country and those reporters already visiting the country are being urged to leave due to an increase in threats from Guinea military to media personnel.
The lists continue to grow with more reporters and media personnel being punished, arrested, and mistreated across the globe. Journalists are still being thrown in jail for a photo or word said to be offensive, when all they are doing is stating the facts. The direct result is censorship and infringes on press freedom. Yet journalists investigate and report on issues that can get them sued or killed.
World Press Freedom Day
In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. This day was set aside to remind governments of their duty to respect the universal right of freedom of expression. Not only was this meant to emphasize what was happening to journalists being taken hostage, it also was for the benefit of even small town reporters.
In smaller cities, reporters can be censored just as much as reporters taken hostage. Columnists stating their opinion can be widely snubbed by those who disagree with the statement and facts behind it. Reputation is everything and a reporter that exposes something corrupt within a small community isn’t always appreciated.
Burning bridges within a small town – and losing a source due to their personal opinion of an issue – can hinder a reporter from giving an entire story properly. Disagreements between media and locals become a larger issue than the norm, due to the fact that in many towns a relationship between a journalist and a contact also involves other journalists, as well as other contacts. New reporters to a small town have to face the challenging aspect of taking time to form relationships with even the most typical sources.
On top of having to consistently consider people more so than bigger city reporters, small town reporters also have to be more so versatile in terms of their skills in writing, editing, and covering all types of stories – as well as being their own editor. They need to have more drive in using their independence and standing up for each story they write, while at the same time being driven to investigate certain major leads that would really provoke strong feelings from readers. While fan mail may pour in to these journalists, they get double the hate mail, and therefore have to develop a thicker skin.
Hands On Journalism Training for Students
Canadore College and Nipissing University of North Bay, Ontario, offers a free newspaper to students of the Education Center, every two months. Publishing up to six issues each school year, the publication is a prime example of the scrutiny and obstacles media is put through. Students are encouraged – through ads posted at the schools – to submit stories, poems, photos, opinion pieces, etc.
A small staff of a few students currently dedicates their extra time to putting the paper together. And though the publication is free, and spread out widely throughout the school, it does not have enough readers or funding to distribute it to the local community. After this school year, the current students working to put the paper together are graduating and leaving the school. The team to replace them is small, once again and many hours will be given up by these students in order to get the paper published.
Their job will also include heading to the city’s downtown business area and drumming up support for their paper with each publication. Through this, these student journalists learn firsthand how hard it is to create interest and consistent support for what they do. It’s in the small stories students start off doing that could lead to the make or break in their decision whether independence, initiative, curiosity is enough for them to turn to journalism for their way to help save the world in their own way.