The Truth. I need it.

It pains me, but  I have taken a serious hiatus from blogging. Why? It’s hard to say. My day job has drained me. The fate of journalism scares me. And it feels impossible, without giving up absolutely everything, including a personal life, to seek original content in my spare time, not just spin what’s already been spun. I think you all, the people who visit my blog, deserve some original stories. Not more spin.

Since MTV ended, I have had a ton of offers to write/produce for free. I get it. I’m young in my career. I should be willing to work for free or little cost. But seriously? It degrades what I’m trying to do: prove that real journalism, real information, can’t be found solely at the keypad on my computer.Sure, I can build sources, I can research, read other perspectives. But I can’t go out there, attend a hearing, get reactions at a rally…get a soundbite that actually informs the direction of a national dialogue or changes the perspective of a student, a voter, a President.

While working full time for free, hustling for stories and uploading all the time to iReport, HuffingtonPost and TrueSlant  sounds great, I am a pragmatist. And I’m not about to jump ship, leave my day job, without knowing who is steering us to a better place. To a journalism that doesn’t deny the possibility the Internet brings. To a journalism that admits many jobs will be lost but many more created.  To a journalism that wants to embrace web 2.0 to inform the public to make better decisions. Why, with all that is at stake, are we not there yet?

One of the first times I interviewed Helen Thomas, I told her I considered her the first “blogger” in the White House. I don’t think she was expecting the words that had come out of my mouth. As background, this was back in 2007, when BPhoto Credit: Jason Novakush was still in control, and the word “blog” was a sure shot to get my mouth washed out with soap in the wrong company. But Helen listened, and then she asked, “what do you mean?”

I went on.

“In a way, you are. You aren’t trying to kid anyone. You are going for the facts, but you are also going for reactions – and you are putting yourself in the question. Your peers are totally shocked. They don’t know what to do with it,” and thought to myself, “except ignore you.”

A while later, I was at a happy hour with a bunch of people who worked at ABC, NBC, CNN, etc. A senior White House producer from one of these major networks asked me about Helen. I answered by asking her why people in the Press Corp didn’t follow up on Helen’s questions, the ones that were so OBVIOUS, like, Mr. President, are you certain Iraq has WMD? Why do intelligence reports contradict? Do we torture? You know, the basics.

The Producer’s answer? “She makes us all uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable? What a waste of a press pass. Someone who seeks the truth makes the Press Corp “uncomfortable.”

Why does this matter?

As important as the niche, bulldog blogs have become inside the Beltway, mainstream press is still mainstream press. People from Indiana to Idaho are still busy, focused on raising families or farms, paying bills or the doctor. They don’t have time to do their homework. So they turn to comfortable brands, like network and cable news. The same places that proved in the run up the Iraq war, that they were comfortable reporting what they were told, and uncomfortable looking for more.Note from Helen Thomas, to Erica Anderson

But we all know what asking tough questions in recent years has brought Helen. Animosity from her peers. A cold shoulder from a President. A status as a “has been.” Between you and me, she does care that people attack her work. But she also tells me this, “You don’t go into this business to be popular.”

Perhaps that is what we are all afraid of. Not being liked. Or even better, not being rich. Honestly? I’m past it. This democracy is in need of truth. It is in need of a financially vibrant system of press. One that can be trusted, competitive, and open for debate. And above all else, run by people who get the fact that the Internet and technology will make journalism better off. More informed. More conscious. More like Helen.

9 comments

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  1. Evan Summers

    That seriously is one of the most direct and scathing insight on the state of the industry that I’ve read in a long time. Well done. The CNN Producer’s statement is gut wrenching.

    I’ve had several of my friends, yourself included, go into journalism and I wonder, “These people are idiots OR these people will change the world.” Only time will tell where Web 2.0 will take us. I just know that when it does get mainstream traction that I’ll have you on the ground floor.

    Keep it up. Stay drain. Stay exhausted. Stay frustrated. You may not be able to do this forever so get it in now.

  2. Molly Horan

    I am hard up for original content right now, too, because I’m at my desk losing hair over what I’m going to do next.

    So I’m going to spin THIS, god damnit, because I COULD NOT have POSSIBLY said it better myself.

  3. Mary Beth

    Very nice article. You express how I have been feeling for YEARS less the working as a journalist part.
    I have always wondered how I could KNOW they would not find WMD but the press didn’t (won a few lunches and more than a few dollars on that bet) There are very few true journalist left. Helen, of course, being one. But when respected journalists like Ms. Thomas are ignored at press conferences; or are rampantly and wrongly accused of plagiarism, like Maureen Dowd, to discredit those that refuse to spin, we are in serious trouble.
    Don’t give up, Erica. I look forward to your reports. You WILL succeed, you WILL find your place and even if it doesn’t make you rich it will make you a living. I have no doubt!!

  4. Start Loving

    Oh my gosh!!! Erica, this rarely happens to me. Each next sentence in this post was the sentence I HOPED you were going to write! Brava! Weren’t you smiling as we spoke in front of the White House? Weren’t you thinking… ‘hey Start, just shut up and read my blog?” 🙂

    The central question in life, by whatever words is: am I going go for 1. wealth of stuff or 2. wealth of meaningfulness? EVERYONE that we deeply revere, admire, Truly ENVY chose door number 2. EVERYONE. THEY alone Lived. THEY alone had Joy. THEY alone had LIFE. Helen Thomas LIVES, and the other drones merely exist. Pitiful. (Amy Goodman lives.)

    Yes, watch the Matrix. The central question in life then is – do you want to Exist IN the Matrix, or LIVE outside?

    Your brother, Start

  5. Start Loving

    One other point. If, in a world as lost, as degenerated as ours (clinical fact), IF one is popular / wealthy / famous / “successful”… then one is meaningless. Barack Obama is the only exception that comes to mind. We need a raging fire of Truth, where there IS no truth now. FIRES START SMALL, or they don’t start. “[Whoever] would give light must endure burning.” Eleanor Roosevelt / Victor Frankl

  6. Ricki Mac

    AMEN. I haven’t felt this passionate about the industry for quite awhile. When was journalism ever supposed to be scared of big biz? I thought that was the whole point…to tell the truth and not to be put off by what people WANT to hear. What happened to the greats like Walter Cronkite and Barbra Walters asking the questions that mattered most. Where did all of the gumption go? From a young female journalist to the other, way to put it out there. We all ‘needed it!’

  7. Jess Ferko

    I was just at my in-laws’s house this week where they watch a lot of CNN and Fox news. The kind that runs 24/7. Since I don’t work at an office, I’ve found that my consumption of news has dwindled to my Google home page RSS feeds and what my network tells me on Twitter and Mashable. A sad story, isn’t it?

    My point is that I have closed myself off from the outside news world over the last few years because everything seemed to be heavily tainted by the reporter’s political views. I would start getting worked up and then realized that I probably didn’t have all the facts and that if I wanted to really be informed, I would have to do the work of a reporter myself.

    Like you, my day job and family life are enough for me without trying to figure out the political truths of the world. As a consumer, I would welcome more truth in reporting!

    Nicely put Erica, keep them coming!

  8. Raman

    Hey Erica, I just wanted to say that your article was very refreshing. As someone who is studying to go into the journalism field I am always questioning what I hear on mainstream media. We rarely here the true facts of what is going on and why something is happening, usually most of the reports are filled with “analyst” opinions and news channels rarely give a insight into the true facts. Or hard news is overshadowed by soft news. It would be a refreshing sight to see journalists asking the hard questions. That’s what journalists are there for in my opinion to ask the hard questions and get answers so viewers can be best informed about an issue or topic at hand.

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