Column: Some thoughts on print media, for National Newspaper Week

Reporter Kate Saylors reflects on what it means to be a reporter, even when times are tough

There’s this tired old trope in journalism about themed days or weeks. You can always get an easy story from National Cat Day or International Talk Like a Pirate Day. But I’m here to tell you about one theme week I don’t feel is overdone: it’s National Newspaper Week.

Newspapers are a bit embattled these days. We fight for ad revenue, we fight for resources, we fight for a stake in the market when more and more people just want to pick up their phones. We fight to be taken seriously, both locally when people figure they don’t need a community newspaper, and nationally, when political leaders paint the press as “fake news.”

But despite all of that, I still believe wholeheartedly in what we do. Not surprised, coming from a reporter? Yeah, figured. Here’s my philosophy.

First, we have to consider what exactly constitutes news? Who’s a journalist? I would argue that posting on Facebook doesn’t constitute news, but gathering credible information responsibly does. We don’t share rumour and we don’t share what hasn’t been confirmed. We don’t, usually, offer an opinion. I consider Les Johnson a colleague, as is Alex from Juice FM. We’re together in our mission to share information. We saw the impact of that during the flooding, when it was on us to make sure people stayed informed, and as fast as possible. People turned to us then – they always have, but especially when our town was in crisis. I’m still proud of the job all local media did during that event.

But I also believe that it doesn’t come cheap. I have some deeply held values about how to be a responsible consumer, but the primary one is this: If you value it, pay for it. Early on in my journalism degree, it dawned on me after I hit the New York Times paywall for the fourth time in a week, that maybe, if this was important to me, perhaps I should do something to ensure its survival. Clearly, I valued the work these journalists were doing, so I should pay them for it. I wouldn’t sit in a restaurant, enjoy a wonderful meal prepared by an expert chef and walk out without paying my bill. It’s a small thing that ensures the news source I value can continue to operate. I’m invested in their success.

(And yes, I know I’m preaching to the converted here. The vast majority of you reading this are doing so in a print paper that you have subscribed to and receive weekly. Thank you.)

The current climate in news is unstable at best. I wrote earlier this year about journalists in Maryland being shot, just for doing their jobs; that’s terrifying. But there are more insidious examples: earlier this week, the President of the United States commented that a journalist “wasn’t thinking. She never does.”

Here in Grand Forks, print media is still strong. The demographics of our town are such that most people still prefer to pick up a paper, and that’s a wonderful thing. But print, desktop, mobile or otherwise: it doesn’t matter how you get it. The important thing is that you’re reading the news, thinking critically about the material, and trust the work journalists are doing.

Working in a small newsroom can be isolating. I’m often struggling to make decisions, knowing that not everyone understands what it is like to live and report in Grand Forks. We’re a unique place with unique people, to put it mildly. But for me, National Newspaper Week is a reminder that I have colleagues all over B.C. and Canada who struggle with the same issues, understand the insane stress, thrive on the drive of a deadline, and feel the craziness of being a reporter in a small town that still cares deeply (sometimes too deeply, I’ve thought) about its newspaper.

Being a reporter is being one of a clan, and that’s why I’m thankful. I have an incredible job that affords me new opportunities to learn and grow daily. I’m so incredibly lucky. Happy National Newspaper Week, folks. Thanks for reading, this week and every week.