Monday, September 25, 2006

Not every journalist is the same

It's taken me six months, but I think I finally have the hang of answering e-mails as the Collegian's Editor in Chief.

Some of the material that lands in my inbox still manages to shock me, but I've managed to group most of my mail into one of five categories.

These are the generic e-mails, the ones I get at least six of every day:
The "Please publicize my band/product/magazine/whatever!" e-mail.

The "I'm an excellent writer. You should let me join the Collegian" e-mail.

The "By the way, you missed a period on Page 6" e-mail.

And the always enjoyable, "You're all a bunch of liberals!" e-mail.

Seldom - and I'm talking seldom - does an e-mail with "Great job!" in the subject line pop up. These qualify as the "Wow, you guys aren't too bad" e-mails, and there will never be enough of them. When they do arrive, it usually takes me a full day to think of a response because it feels just that foreign.

Now, please understand that I don't do this job to receive compliments. In fact, constructive criticism is just as welcome because it means that people are reading and paying attention to the paper.

But it is truly an anomaly anytime positive feedback finds its way to a journalist.

We're generally used to being criticized, disliked, condemned and denounced for no reason other than the fact that we're journalists. It's part of the job, and many of us like it that way.

Nothing makes me giggle more than when a "You're all a bunch of liberals!" e-mail appears in my inbox in response to an editorial that was written by a conservative staff member.

That kind of criticism doesn't phase me.

However, I can't help but resent the fact that all journalists tend to be lumped into one category and are generally regarded as gossip-hungry, biased scavengers. It seems the public regards the TV "journalist" covering fashion trends the same as they do the one seeking truth in Iraq.

It's simply not the same.

Since 1992, 580 journalists have been killed for various reasons across the world, according to a report recently released by the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that has been keeping such records for about 15 years.

The study says that journalists are most often murdered as opposed to being caught accidentally in the middle of violence.

The usual culprits? Disapproving governments or other political groups that were so threatened by the idea of a free press that they had to actually murder the messenger in order to stop the flow of information.

You say journalists haven't been doing their job covering the war in Iraq?

Well, 50 of them - the majority of Iraqi nationality - have been killed trying to do so. And their stories rarely make headlines.

I of course am not trying to compare the risks taken by journalists given the task of covering war and poverty to the ones we at the Collegian take every day. It's not often that one of our reporters has a near-death experience covering an anti-sweatshop rally on the steps of Old Main.

However, the goal of both is the same: to uncover the truth and present it to the public.

Browsing through the list of names in the CPJ report, I noticed that only a few of the journalists killed were American journalists. It is much more common for a journalist to be killed covering political news in their home country – the most basic and noble form of journalism there is, in my opinion.

This threat of violence toward journalists that exists in the world is no less dangerous than the threat of violence toward any other sector of society.
In some cases, it is more so.

It serves as proof that information is the most valuable commodity in a prosperous society – and corrupted governments know that.

By all means, keep the criticism coming. We thrive on it.

But keep those 580 journalists in mind the next time you doubt how hard we try and how much some have had to sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom.