First, a confession: I have no formal education either English or Journalism.
That said, I have written, reported, edited and done all of the tasks someone working in either of these fields would do, and been published.
I make the above points because they go to why I feel qualified to write the following.
I recently found out, by seeing a published notification of hearings, that a major civil engineering project will be built very near my hometown. This project, known as the Great Lakes Basin Railroad, would be a roughly 275 mile railroad starting in Wisconsin, passing through north-eastern Illinois and terminating in northern Indiana. The stated goal of the project is to connect several large Class 1 railroads, bypassing the congested connections in and around Chicago.
Great Lakes Basin Railroad is to be a privately-funded project…but they are seeking government approval to use ’eminent domain’ powers to allow them to force property owners to sell at the so-called ‘fair-market value’. That means literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people may be subject to the process.
You would think that such a huge project would draw the attention of the media outlets in virtually every city and town along or near it’s proposed route. It will pass within a few miles of my hometown, almost on the edge of it, yet I found out about this not from my local newspaper, but via a notice of public meetings published in the local paper of a much larger town.
Being what I would like to think as fairly civic-minded individual, I decided to write a letter to the local newspaper about the project. When I dropped by their office to hand the letter in, things got decidedly strange. I approached the counter that separates the paper’s receptionist from the public, handed my letter over, and just out of curiosity, I asked why there had been no coverage of what should be a major story to them. The receptionist not knowing, she asked me to wait while she went to ask the reporters. She returned with another woman in tow, who she introduced as the reporter covering the story. She was carrying a classic reporter’s lined pad, and the first question she asked me was whether I was someone who would be directly ‘impacted’ by the project. She seemed quite disappointed that I wasn’t, and when I in my turn asked her why there had been no coverage of the new rail line, she told me that she was waiting for someone who would be ‘impacted’ by the line to contact her!
Now, here’s the fun part: Great Lakes Basin Railroad has a web site under their parent organization’s auspices at http://www.greatlakesbasin.net/. Among other things you can find on that site is a complete map of the proposed route for the rail line with sufficient details supplied to allow anyone to see where the line will be at any particular point…and that, in turn, should be more than enough to find out who owns said property.
So why would any journalist sit on their duff, waiting for someone to approach them about a story like this, when they could find people to interview with a little research?
Am I wrong to think that reporters should be more proactive in reporting news, more willing to do the literal and mental legwork to actually gather the facts on a story? That is how I worked, back when I was writing and reporting. Do modern ‘journalists’ just sit around, waiting for a story to come to them? Or did I simply encounter a hack, someone who has the job for whatever reason and does the bare minimum? I don’t know, but the fact that this individual is supposedly responsible for covering local news is disturbing to me, and makes me doubt the future of journalism as a whole.