In a World Where Journalists Aren’t Safe: Reflections on the WDBJ Shooting

Despite everything,I still believe people

“What does democracy mean to you?”

I was 17, a senior in high school, when a civics teacher asked me that. After a semester of Democracy and Media Literacy with her, I’d realize that the answer to that question is pretty much absolutely everything.

I’m not one of those super rebellious liberals who “isn’t sure they believe in democracy.” I don’t know man. That just seems a little drastic for me. Sure, I lean super far left and I’m not afraid to admit it (who is these days?), but I think saying that I don’t believe in democracy anymore might be a little bit of a copout. Do I think democracy means something different in our 21st century world than it did in our fore fathers’ 18th century world? Well, yes. Do I think the way we’re adapting it to modernity isn’t quite what our Athenian friends were thinking of when they invented the whole concept? Probably not. But I still believe in it. I still think it’s worth working for. I still think that democracy is the best thing for freedom, and I think a well-informed electorate is the best thing for democracy. I believe in democracy, and I believe in the news.

I consume the news like an addict looking for her next fix. I refresh my Twitter newsfeed with a twitching finger. I worship at the altar of Cronkite and Murrow in the church of CNN. I sit, I read, I think, I discuss, I think harder, and I vote. And I can honestly tell you that no other practice makes me feel more American, more democratic, than that.

Which is why Wednesday, when I learned of the massacre of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, my stomach lurched in pain. This has brought to the forefront talks of gun control policy and mental healthcare reform, and I’m so glad we’re having those necessary discussions. But the pain I felt was a far more visceral one—this felt like an attack on journalism, an affront on the news.

I think a lot of people are (sadly) conditioned to the dangers that lay ahead for journalists internationally; in the past year ISIS has been responsible for the beheadings of over 60 journalists. And America only really reports on the Western journalists. But the other day… I don’t know. This wasn’t supposed to happen in our country. Journalists are supposed to be safe here. I don’t know if, as an American, as a person who loves democracy, I feel safe in a place where journalists aren’t safe. Isn’t journalism, the news, the very thing which is supposed to feed our democracy? Yesterday I was deeply saddened.

But something that I think makes journalists, and writers in general, special is that we pick up all of these demons, cover these exceptionally upsetting stories and discuss these deeply disturbing problems, but we wake up the next day all the more filled with hope.

On Wednesday, I posted a graphic with the quote “despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart.” And I do. I do believe Miss Frank’s words, because if she can believe them, who can’t? But yesterday they were harder to type out. I’m glad I did, though, if only to remind myself for later. If only to try and keep this thing we have going in America moving forward.

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