Questions inevitably follow a layoff. Could I have done more to secure my job and why did management choose me? But the main question I keep asking myself is what pushed me to become a journalist in the first place? It's a question I'm having trouble answering, considering the obvious problems in the newspaper industry even eight years ago when I enrolled at West Virginia University. The easy answer is that I should have known better and studied chemical engineering.
But any serious reporter will tell you they love their job because of the important purpose it serves the community. Ever since the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail hired me for my first professional job in August 2005, I have worked to reveal ugly and dark secrets that would have gone unnoticed without newspapers. You don't make very many friends as a reporter, and a quick flip through my telephone voicemail is proof of that. It's important for reporters to remain neutral and not become overly friendly with sources, even the ones you respect and like. That can make reporting a lonely profession. You are nobody's friend and, at times, everyone's enemy.
What else troubles me is that a reporter is a "jack of all trades, master of none." Sure, we can write and interview, but what's the point of that if no one wants to read anymore? It was a challenge to learn new issues (municipal government, natural gas drilling, high-voltage power lines, etc.) and a task I took seriously. So although I studied many issues to better serve our readers, I'm no more qualified to work for a drilling company than flip burgers.
It saddens me to see the diminishing role newspapers are serving in the community. Without journalists, people who do wrong have no fear of public shame. It was, after all, a local newspaper reporter who found South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford walking off a plane arriving from Argentina. Newspapers shed light on dirty secrets, and all for the cost of just 50 cents a day. So despite losing my job, I would not change my career choice, because I feel confident that I somehow made a positive contribution to the community.
But without newspapers - without reporters - what will our society become? That scares me more than unemployment.
4 weeks ago