Lessons from Sarah

The stories filtered through my Twitter algorithm with a unison voice. Sarah Portlock, to them, was more than just any other colleague or journalist.

Portlock, a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal, died Monday in New York. A memo from Journal editor Gerry Baker said she had suffered a traumatic brain injury earlier in the year.

I never met Portlock or had the opportunity to work with her. Yet, as I read these stories, I was reminded of the value of supporting each other in the profession, in a time where competition is fierce, news of layoffs are the norm, and the culture of journalism is challenged with digital advances alongside the repetitive chants of fake news and rampant criticism from government officials.

In his memo, Baker noted that Portlock extended a helping hand to all who came in contact with her.

“Sarah will be remembered by colleagues in Washington and New York as a warm and kind colleague, a friendly face for new employees; the organizer of cards and gifts when someone had a new baby or got married; the planner of team-building happy hours; and the cheerleader of friends and colleagues when they landed a big scoop, finished a big project or received some recognition for work well done,” Baker wrote. “Sarah will be remembered by all for her thoughtfulness and her collegiality.”

Portlock’s efforts also extended to the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, where as one reporter put it on Twitter, she made them feel more than just ordinary reporters at a large paper.

But the tweet that stood out to me the most was from the Journal’s Allison Prang, which is a call to action to all journalists.

There are a lot of questions about journalism and its future which remain unanswered. There are a lot of people, myself included, who wonder about the future, and if we can have an impact. If Sarah Portlock has taught the journalism community anything, it is this – our work is important, and our industry has meaning when we work together and support each other, especially in difficult times.

This is needed now more than ever. When we support each other, we can do great things. When we support each other, whether supporting a young reporter or supporting a fellow colleague (in your newsroom or in another newsroom), we can face the challenges ahead. When we support each other, we are at our best – for when journalism is at its best, the people who we serve will be too.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2:57pm CT to amend a spacing error.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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