Fred Rogers’ journalism lesson

When we try to decide what we want to do for a living as a career, a lot of questions come to mind. What are we passionate about? What piques our interest? Is there a profession that calls to us to help us do the most good?

On the weekend where we ponder what it means to be citizens of the United States, I stumbled upon this quote from the writer and public television personality, Fred Rogers.

“Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job,” Rogers said. “Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.”

Journalism is a service based profession. It is a calling. Those who pursue it aren’t interested in fame or fortune. They want to inform, engage and educate, all the while enhancing the public discourse.

It is a profession that is being tested, not simply with new platforms and technology, but also the relationship with the public. Earlier today, President Trump posted a tweet depicting him wrestling an individual that depicted CNN.

My colleague, Andrew Seaman, who chairs SPJ’s Ethics Committee (and which I am also a member of), called on journalists and news organizations in a blog post written earlier Sunday to educate the public about journalism.

“The press needs to teach the public what it does and why it matters,” Seaman wrote. “If the press succeeds, it won’t matter how many times the president publishes the words “fake news” on Twitter. The public will know the truth about responsible journalists and news organizations.”

Facebook and Twitter have become a norm in 21st century journalism. In a matter of seconds, anything you write or say can be disseminated – and while both social networks have provided positive benefits for journalism, it has also provided challenges. At the same time, it also provides opportunities – opportunities to further this education, to convince people why journalism is important.

It can start from explaining reporting decisions on Twitter, explaining to audiences about editorial decisions, or also remembering this important mantra: “It is better to be right than to be first.

But this education cannot be done by one person. In an age where metrics is an influential norm, trust in journalism is important more so than ever, and it is something that no one can compete for. It is something that has to be earned, and working collaboratively can help enhance the public’s understanding of journalism.

Rogers is right. Life is for service, and as life is for service, then journalism is one of the most important professions you can be in.

Education is at the core of what we do. We are storytellers, and we work together to ensure the world remains at its best. If we work together, channeling Rogers’ spirit and that of others, we can ensure that we remain at our best too.

Will you join me?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Editor’s note: This post was edited on July 21 at 3:38pm CT to replace content that was from a broken link.

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