During a snowy visit to New York City a few months ago, my sister and I took a trip to the Good Morning America studio as part of our high school Graduation Project. As aspiring journalists, this was very exciting for us.
In between filming different segments and commercial breaks and reviewing notes, Robin Roberts, one of the people who inspired me to want to become a journalist, gave my sister and me advice about navigating our chosen career. Among these words were four that have stayed with me, and that I refer to all the time:
"Always remember that news is about integrity."
As long as we humans have lived on Earth, we have had an innate curiosity about what is going on in the world around us. The only thing that has changed over time is how we get our news, and, possibly more importantly, what is classified as "news" -- and that's kind of a big deal.
Since the beginning of time, people have had a desire to keep up with the latest on things that affected them directly, from the actions of their leaders, to major events in the community, to things like weather. Right away, early people needed to come up with a way to communicate these ideas to each other, and even to future generations: so storytelling was born. I guess, in a way, these storytellers were the early journalists. The idea of this was so fascinating to me, I decided to do some research.
As it turns out, the first newspaper dates all the way back to Rome, Italy in 59 BC. The news was carved on metal or stone tablets, and copies were hung up around the city for people to read. If you wanted to get the latest news, you had to walk around until you found one.
Fast-forward to early 17th century Europe and you'll find an emergence of new media as a result of the first printing press -- which produced the first modern-day newspapers.
Until Alexander Graham Bell made the first call in 1876, there were no phones. If you had something to say to somebody, you would either walk down to their house and tell them in person or get out a pen and paper and write them a letter. Don't worry, they'd get it in a week or so.
Because communicating in any way but face-to-face was such a process in those days, the only things that were written were the things that absolutely needed to be said. Everything that was put in the newspaper was, well, news! Can you imagine?
Now, everyone and everything is connected by technology. With social media like Twitter and Facebook, everything is accessible, and nothing is withheld. However, a vast majority of it just doesn't seem like it should be labeled news. Take a look at a few of the latest Twitter "headlines" and you'll see what I mean:
"V. Stiviano Out and About in That Weird Visor ... Again"
"Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Are Getting Married THIS WEEK"
"'American Pickers' Stars -- We Got a New Van ... That Looks Just Like The Old One"
Whenever I read things like this, (which is like every time I log into Twitter) I can't help but wonder: what would our ancestors think of this? What if there was some way to explain it to them and say "Yep, guys, this is the most important thing that they had to report on today...and people love it!" They would be beyond confused, and maybe even a little sad.
If you think about it, the existence (and popularity!) of headlines like these in today's world doesn't change the fact that there are actual news-worthy things happening simultaneously. Just because TMZ is reporting on Kim Kardashian's wedding doesn't mean that there isn't still war and world hunger and natural disasters going on. It simply means that today, those aren't the kind of stories that bring in the most traffic to the news outlets -- so they are outnumbered by stories like Justin Bieber getting arrested... again.
Even worse, people nowadays publish crazy stories for the entire world to read that are either completely made up or have very little truth to them. That's another important thing that Robin told my sister and me that I will never forget -- in today's connected world, fact-checking is more important than ever. Because it costs no money and takes only a few seconds to post, gossip websites are flooded with rumors and stories that are either written by somebody that knew they were making it all up just to gain readers, or by somebody that was just going based on what they heard with no real evidence.
I don't know about you, but all of this is deeply concerning to me -- not just as an aspiring journalist, but as a teenager in general in today's wired world. In fact, I can remember very clearly the exact moment it hit me just how connected us young people are these days.
It was this past New Year's Eve, a night known for friends getting together and hanging out and having face-to-face conversations. My sister and I were sitting in our basement with a small group of friends watching New Year's Rockin' Eve on TV, like we always do. It was just minutes before the ball dropped in New York City, and the countdown was getting down to the wire. The five or so of us were all sitting close to each other in the same room with our glasses of sparkling apple cider lined up side-by-side, waiting for the clock to strike midnight.
But there was one problem: no one was actually talking to each other.
We were all talking to someone, all right. My sister and I were texting our friend in another state, who couldn't make it to our New Year's celebration. The other three were chatting with people online they met over Facebook or Twitter.
That's when it hit me: This isn't healthy. Not at all. We were a group of best friends, all together in the same room on the most social night of the year, and we were each in our own little World of Technology, talking to people states away.
And you wonder why our grandparents are scratching their heads at us young people buried in our phones, and wondering what the heck happened.
Of course, it is amazing how in just a few short years, we went from having to go to the end of the driveway every morning to get the latest news to having it all on our phones. I just think we need to take a few step backs and realize that there is more to our Age of Technology that just a quicker, more accessible way of getting the news -- the whole perception of news is changing as a result.
How will this impact the future of journalism? And more importantly, how will it affect the future of today's youth? What would a world be like where people used tweets, and only tweets, as their morning news? This could be our reality sooner than we think -- because if you think about it, that's how it is for a lot of people already.
Just remember what Robin said: news is about integrity, not about just giving people what they want to read: and even if you're not the one writing it, it's your job to know the difference.