By Denny Wilkins
Once upon time, in the days before the consolidation of news company ownership into the sell-the-assets-off-fast hands of hedge funds, the United States had more than 55,000 journalists toiling in daily print newsrooms.
Today only half of them remain working to inform and defend their readers.
Where’d the other half go? Laid off. Fired. Quit before being laid off or fired.
So what? Right now more journalists are needed. In this Age of Coronavirus, too few journalists are covering the most important story of their lifetimes. In every state, city, town and village, edicts and orders are being issued that curtail individual liberty for the sake of public health. Those mandates need coverage and inspection.
At the federal level, regulations and rules are being relaxed to allow industry and the medical community to fight the spread of the infection.
But journalists are needed to keep track of those suspended regulations. When this public health crisis ends, and the rules and regulations remain suspended, then who will shout “Hey! Why are these regulations still suspended?”
That’s called holding government accountable – and that is a principal reason the First Amendment exists.
Journalists share a particular trait with medical professionals – especially emergency room nurses and doctors — police officers, members of the military, pilots in crisis, and others.
There has to be a category of professionals consisting of those who keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs. Journalists are in that category.
I’m a journalism professor. Keep your cool: That’s the message I try to instill in my students. Be prepared for chaos. Your readers need it, and you have to be able to provide.
The nation needs many more journalists – just as right now it needs more doctors, nurses, ventilators, hospital beds, and people willing and needed to work in essential occupations. But all those are in short supply, and that’s a tragedy of our time.
Dr. Denny Wilkins worked as a reporter and editor at a rural New England newspaper for two decades. He has taught journalism at St. Bonaventure University for nearly a quarter of a century.