Journalists do not make us fear, they make us aware

By Pauline W. Hoffmann

These last several weeks have put a burden on many sectors of society from hourly workers who will struggle to provide for families to health care workers who battle on the front lines of the pandemic. There is also a toll on those who strive to provide accurate, timely information. Journalism and journalists provide a valuable public service. Nowhere have we seen that more intimately than in our own communities.

With news outlets shuttering and downsizing, it is more important than ever to recognize that journalism is still a noble profession. Women and men have an opportunity to change the world through the written and/or spoken word. Ethical and truthful gathering, analyzing and reporting is still critical and necessary.

I have seen our local journalists report information to help keep the public safe at the detriment, perhaps, of their own public safety. I have seen the work of my journalism faculty colleagues and our student journalists in the face of unprecedented crisis. My faculty colleagues have been working tirelessly with students to ensure the students are getting the stories, particularly important in a rural area without major news outlets. Students are talking to the county health department and health care workers, business leaders, school and university officials to make sure the public is aware of what is happening and to provide information about safety measures and guidelines. They are not resting. My faculty colleagues have the added burden (though they would not call it that) of teaching while making sure the job of disseminating information is done ethically and well. Their stories appear on TAPinto Greater Olean and SBU-TV.

I have heard these past weeks that the media is responsible for the hysteria around the novel coronavirus. That people are fearful because the media has made us fear. I argue the media has made us aware. It has also provided an outlet to teach the next generation of journalists. It has brought together a campus and a community.

Journalists and journalism are under fire. We hear about “fake news” and “alternative facts.” When people turn to social media for news and information without first checking the source of said information, we do, indeed, worry.

We teach students to tell stories – stories that each of us has; stories so important to the maintenance of our democracy and reminder of our humanity.  Our hearts our heavy as we are reminded of those who’ve succumbed to COVID-19 and for those likely to surrender.

We see our elected officials and others on the front lines holding press conferences because they still recognize that the best way to disseminate information is with the media. People still rely on newspapers, television and cable news, radio, and social media to deliver valuable information. We are teaching our students – trial by fire in this case – the importance of the work they are doing. We teach them that people in their communities are afraid and need to have information to allay those fears.

Journalism is a calling much as with other professions.  Journalists have a mission to communicate accurately and ethically. I shudder to imagine a world in which journalism is reined and complacency sets in and turns to ignorance.

Pauline W. Hoffmann, Ph.D., is an associate professor and former dean of the Jandoli School of 
at St. Bonaventure University.

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