Brian Williams: Why journalism is a pissing contest

Cameron Morgan, Chattanooga, Tenn. — Before the wild anxiety days of 2k14 and the story that will live in infamy that resulted from it, I wanted to be a journalist. No, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent; I wanted to explore other countries and other cultures and get to the real question that plagued me since that first day in Sunday school: where is God in all of it?

But enough about my existential plight; we’re here to talk about journalism.

Before I had doubts about my capacity to do the job, I had doubts about the job itself. Standing on bomb shelters? Alright. Getting shot at? Cool deal. I was excited, but nervous. It seemed like that was par for the course in this line of work. But, come on, could I really do all that?

The answer, retrospectively: I shouldn’t. At least, there was no checklist that said I had to, right?

In light of the Brian Williams controversy, I think the world needs to have a real talk about the state of journalism. Because, he didn’t just lie; he didn’t just get caught; he didn’t just betray his station. Williams  took on power and authority from tragedy. He gained credibility midst the deaths of thousands in a war zone.

We, as spectators, let correspondents and anchors go out into fields that they’re not wholly qualified to cover (bar Christian Amanpour, because she does her research), and we let them make a pissing contest out of tragedy.

Who can stand on more bomb shelters while still keeping the rugged five-o-clock shadow? Bonus points if you bring back some war stories. (I’m looking at you, Silver Fox).

What’s even more disturbing is how these messages are affecting young journalist who don’t see the pissing contest and therefore the danger. We’re getting beheaded in the dozens because of this need for credentials.

According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), 60 journalists died in 2014, and 43 percent of those deaths came from Syria. But let’s put that in context of all the journalists missing or in countries like North Korea where we don’t have any contact or data.

Journalism is serious work.

Yes, there are the crap shoots of city council meetings and groundbreakings, flu stories and the daily weather-pocalyse we must spin, but at it’s heart, journalism is still the most important and impactful field there is. It’s essential.

Yet, when we become the stories ourselves, we have to seriously question what that means for the field. More to the point, when we use global death as a ploy in our career, we have to look at how that’s shaping the reality of the news we cover.

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