I believe that many journalists look for validation that the work they are doing is important. I sure do look for it myself. I want to know that I am making a difference.
However, I believe that too many put that validation within the industry through awards that are for the most part given by the high priests of journalism. Awards like the Pulitzers and POYs are judged by our peers and not by our audience.
I stopped entering contests more than 25 years ago and only recently can articulate why. I felt like the awards didn’t validate if the stories I worked on made a difference in the audience’s lives.
When journalism is done right it is often a very slow pace of change that takes place in the communities that it serves. Sometimes the hardest part of the job is our impact can take years to see. Sometimes we often take credit for change we see that is really the work of others long before we came on to the scene.
We as journalists should really be looking to our audiences and how they are responding to our stories about our communities for validation.
Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.
We need to ask ourselves, “Who’s paying attention? Why does the story need to be told? Why should the audience care?”
When the inner drive in our souls is that of a calling to journalism then it is much easier to endure long time sometimes necessary for us to see any real change.
The times when I am most depressed from burnout is when I am no longer really in touch with the audience and really know what they care about. If there are stories we think they should care about and they don’t then this is where I struggle the most.
I have discovered when I see no impact from my work it is often because of the metaphors and simile that I maybe using does not resonate with the audience. I must really know my audience so that while doing the story I am thinking of what the audience would be interested in and why.
I think one of the best questions journalists should be asking of themselves is not how much time they spend on telling their stories, but rather how much time are they spending on getting to know their audience.
Once you have sought to understand your audience and your subject completely is only when great journalism can take place.