Point of View: Reputation rests on backs of current journalists

By Sara Tirrito

Sometimes I forget how little trust the public has in the media.

But as I walked home from church on a recent Sunday, I was stopped by a man who reminded me of just that. He asked me a few questions about my church and whether I was a Baylor student, and then asked about my major: journalism. It’s not a question I’ve ever been afraid to answer, because people normally at least act intrigued and as though they think this is a respectable field of study, or else we simply don’t linger on the topic. Not so with my new acquaintance.

“How can I say this nicely?” he asked. “So you want to be one of those people who makes up things.”

It didn’t come across so much as a question as it did an accusation of journalists everywhere.

“No,” I answered, “I want to write the truth.”

“That’s what they all say,” he replied.

I was taken aback by his certainty and stubbornness, and at first I tried to defend my vocation. But I quickly realized there would be no changing his mind.

I think this confrontation was most disheartening because for me, this man was a representative of a larger population — a population of people who have lost their respect for journalists somewhere along the way and who have no inclination to give us another chance.

In some ways, I feel as though I can’t blame these people — I don’t like being duped or lied to either, and I know there are corrupt journalists out there. I know there are some who are outright liars. I don’t live in a fairytale world; I have watched the movie about Stephen Glass.

But if you look around, there are corrupt individuals in every profession, from businesspeople and priests to doctors and police. That doesn’t mean that we stop trusting everyone in those fields, or label them all as liars. Our attitudes toward journalists should be no exception.

Although many people don’t, I do have faith in the media today.

There are honest reporters in the world, reporters who do everything they can to write the truth and keep their articles balanced while doing it.

They throw themselves into their work with honesty and dedication, seeking to help bring about change where change is needed and disclosure where it is called for. I want to become one of those journalists.

But just as I was recently reminded, it sometimes seems that before I even write my first word as a professional journalist, those who have written irresponsibly before me have already diminished my own credibility. It’s a discouraging feeling for sure, but it won’t keep me from writing.

Instead, I will pursue my passion with a hope that, one story at a time, journalists everywhere can overcome the prejudice we face and earn a newfound trust from the public based on our honesty and our work as individuals. However, this can only happen if the public will first give us a chance.

Sara Tirrito is a sophomore journalism major from Texarkana and a staff writer for the Lariat.