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Editors' roundtable: Modern misconceptions about journalism

The journalism field has been under constant criticism mainly since the 2016 Presidential campaign season. There are notions in society that journalists are terrible people who like lying and spreading false information. 

As future journalists, The Daily Helmsman’s editorial staff, editor-in-chief Mitchell Koch and managing editors Makayla Boswell and Nick Lingerfelt, wanted to clear some of the common misconceptions about journalism believed by a large portion of the United States’ society. 


Myth 1: Journalists twist everything you say.


Mitchell Koch: The main problem with that misconception is that journalists “try” to twist information. I think anything that is wrong has to do with a source not being completely accurate with what they tell you. We have a job to do, and that is to report the information we know, so if someone is hiding information or does not respond to emails and phone calls, then there is no way for us to get that information right.

Nick Lingerfelt: Every reporter comes into a story thinking they know what they want to say with it. But through the course of reporting, sometimes things change, as with any type of writing. I think most journalists try to report the story as it is. Some might stick to a type of story they wanted originally. If people do not get back to us and talk to us, then there is no way for us to report the whole story. If someone is not willing to share their side of the story, I’m not going to make up something someone said.

Makayla Boswell: We are not experts on everything, but we write about a whole bunch of stuff, and if experts, the people we need to talk to, do not get back to us with information, and if it is not what they would have said, they get mad. 


Myth 2: Journalism is an average, 9-5 job.


Koch: Journalism is most definitely not an average job. You do not even really work “hours.” You are a journalist 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whenever something happens, it is your duty to cover that. One of the main areas that comes to mind to me is social media managers, who are journalists in a way. If something happens with their company or someone asks them a question, they have to respond almost immediately, no matter what time of day or what day it is. You’re never really off.

Lingerfelt: You are even thinking about it when you’re at home. Something new happens every day, and you have to adapt. It’s not like you go in and know what you are going to do. For writers in general, you cannot keep normal hours because that’s not how the job works.

Boswell: We even tell our new reporters that they are going to come in 1-5, but every time I say that I’m like, “There’s no guarantee that you’ll be done by 5.” This is the wrong major if you want something super easy, 9-5. 


Myth 3: Bloggers and YouTubers do the same job as journalists.


Koch: I wish I could print a laughing face emoji with this. That is so very incorrect. As journalists, we are taught to research, find out facts, find out information that we did not know and that most people don’t know. While some journalists can also be bloggers, bloggers are not journalists. In blogging, you sit down and write whatever you’re thinking. You do not have to do research. What you write does not have to be accurate. With journalists, you put out information, and everyone expects it to be 100 percent accurate. It’s a lot more pressure than bloggers have.  

Lingerfelt: Bloggers and YouTubers make it easy for people to find “news” they agree with, so they feel like they are educated about what is going on in the world, when really they’re just getting someone else’s opinion. I don’t think there is anything bad with reading blogs or watching YouTube videos, but the onus is really on the people consuming the media to find all the facts. That is something really important to teach people — media literacy, where to get unbiased information. 

Boswell: Even when I write opinions, I still want to talk to sources to see what they think about it. You have to make it a balanced story, so it is not a one-sided thing. With bloggers, they do not have to. Their goal is not to get a balanced story.


Myth 4: Journalism is a dying industry. 


Koch: Newspapers, physically, are a dying industry. Journalism is not. What is in newspapers has already moved or is in the process of moving online. Everyone is always going to need news. You cannot rely on the State to give you accurate information all the time. This reminds me of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. That information would not have gotten out if it was not for journalists. 

Lingerfelt: They call us the fourth estate for a reason. The first three are the branches of government, and then journalism is the fourth estate because it is an important part of society, telling people what is going on. If we give people power, we have to hold them accountable for it. There has to be people who are dedicated to that. It is not going anywhere. I do not think it’s dying. It’s just changing.

Boswell: The Washington Post’s slogan is “Democracy dies in darkness.” Journalism is here to keep the public informed, but I do think it is going to be mainly digitized. Just because it is changing, does not mean it is dying. 


Myth 5: American journalists hate the U.S. 


Koch: Journalists are probably the most patriotic people behind soldiers. We care about our country so much that we want to make sure it is being run correctly. An essential part of American life is journalism and the press. That is why we have an amendment that includes it — the First Amendment. Without it, we would not be the U.S. North Korea has one source of news, from the North Korean government. 

Lingerfelt: It is important to ask these people who think we hate the U.S. why they think that. If somebody is doing something wrong, they should be called out for it. If we see something being done wrong, no matter who it is, we should hold them accountable. 

Boswell: When I think of people who hate the U.S., I think of terrorists and dictators from other countries who think the government should control everything. Just because you do not agree with officials or the President does not mean you hate the U.S. You care because you want it to get better. That’s what we do. 

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