The definition of good journalism shifts

“We no longer have the luxury to be sideline observers to history.”

I filed my first story about the coronavirus 10 months ago — before we knew that a global pandemic would dominate our year; before we knew that marginalized communities would be those most hit; before we knew that protests over systemic racism would erupt across the country; before we knew that a winter surge in COVID-19 cases would arrive before Thanksgiving; before we knew all that we didn’t know.

Sitting here now, nearly a year later, it’s clear that 2020 upended our plans and forced us to construct a haphazard playbook. The year also made it impossible for us, as journalists and informers, to remain separate from the story when we were intrinsically woven within its thread.

The people whose lives were flipped upside down included our neighbors, our friends, and our families; the industries shaken by furloughs and layoffs didn’t exclude our own; the relationships altered by a dependency on virtual connection were personal; the outrage on the streets also spilled from newsroom Slack channels to the news pages. Our world changed this year.

In 2021, there’s no going back. We no longer have the luxury to be sideline observers to history.

That isn’t to say that our role as witnesses to time and guardians of fact should give way to bias or self-interest. It means that the definition of good journalism has changed, concretely.

To be a good journalist is no longer solely a matter of being a good editor, wordsmith, reporter, or maven of digital media. To be a good journalist now is also tied to a willingness to stand up and speak out on the behalf of those who haven’t yet found their voice, to sit down and shut up when it’s time to listen.

The only way we can commit to better covering the communities we serve — and often under-serve — is by fighting to deviate from the status quo. We can’t afford to let our reckonings go to waste.

Colleen Shalby is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and secretary of Media Guild of the West.

I filed my first story about the coronavirus 10 months ago — before we knew that a global pandemic would dominate our year; before we knew that marginalized communities would be those most hit; before we knew that protests over systemic racism would erupt across the country; before we knew that a winter surge in COVID-19 cases would arrive before Thanksgiving; before we knew all that we didn’t know.

Sitting here now, nearly a year later, it’s clear that 2020 upended our plans and forced us to construct a haphazard playbook. The year also made it impossible for us, as journalists and informers, to remain separate from the story when we were intrinsically woven within its thread.

The people whose lives were flipped upside down included our neighbors, our friends, and our families; the industries shaken by furloughs and layoffs didn’t exclude our own; the relationships altered by a dependency on virtual connection were personal; the outrage on the streets also spilled from newsroom Slack channels to the news pages. Our world changed this year.

In 2021, there’s no going back. We no longer have the luxury to be sideline observers to history.

That isn’t to say that our role as witnesses to time and guardians of fact should give way to bias or self-interest. It means that the definition of good journalism has changed, concretely.

To be a good journalist is no longer solely a matter of being a good editor, wordsmith, reporter, or maven of digital media. To be a good journalist now is also tied to a willingness to stand up and speak out on the behalf of those who haven’t yet found their voice, to sit down and shut up when it’s time to listen.

The only way we can commit to better covering the communities we serve — and often under-serve — is by fighting to deviate from the status quo. We can’t afford to let our reckonings go to waste.

Colleen Shalby is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and secretary of Media Guild of the West.

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