I recently sent my father an article by Michael Paterniti from The New Yorker, in which Paterniti describes how he gave everything to a newspaper. He built it from the ground up and toiled for hours in the newsroom, conducting interviews and production entirely by himself. My dad is a retired journalist, and he said it made him sad because the days of giving everything to a newspaper are long behind him. As a student journalist, I was also saddened by the article because I long for a type of journalistic career that no longer exists. 

I fell in love with journalism while reading “All the President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in high school, which surely isn’t an atypical origin story for a young journalist. The book — which chronicles the investigative reporting into the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon — taught me that the press has the power to change the political trajectory of a nation. I still dream of being holed up in an office like Bernstein and Woodward, spending late hours leafing through FBI documents and interviewing cheekily-named anonymous sources, so that I can piece together facts like a puzzle and use my voice as a measly writer to hold powerful people accountable. 

The romantic, mythologized trope of the journalist has died alongside print newspapers and magazines. As my father lamented, the days of working at a small but influential print newspaper and covering local news for a decent paycheck are long gone. Today’s journalists are overworked and underpaid, working overtime to ensure that online news outlets are kept up to date. They sacrifice creativity for a paycheck, which results in formulaic, short-form reporting.

A recent mass quitting at Atlanta magazine over the publisher’s refusal to use pronouns corresponding with a subject’s identity reveals greater turmoil within the industry. Suddenly, it appears that having a career in journalism may mean sacrificing my personal morals about respecting people’s identities. This is the price to pay for working at a reputable magazine, and it has to change. 

The issue at the crux of the magazine’s controversy is the expendability of journalists and the lack of value placed on their roles in politics and culture. The Atlanta magazine employees who quit are extraordinarily brave, yet leaving to prove a point is a futile effort. Everybody is replaceable in journalism; the magazine isn’t going to change its ways and beg its staff back. It’ll just replace the lost writers with cheaper, more complacent writers, who will jump at the chance to work at an acclaimed magazine covering a culturally diverse, interesting city, regardless of the publication’s ethical qualms. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the journalism industry. To make a name for yourself, you must take positions that pay you money and allow you to amass clips, regardless of ethics. To make it, my dad said, you have to be scrappy. In his ’90s idealization of journalism, scrappiness means taking jobs at small-town newspapers and reporting on little league baseball games. Today, being scrappy means being at the whim of your publisher when it comes to decision making. In the case of Atlanta magazine, this meant disregarding sources’ gender identities. I want the old journalism back. 

For years, I said I didn’t want to be a journalist because I was terrified of the lack of career security my father and his colleagues faced for the entirety of their 30-plus year careers. Journalism is a constant Sisyphean cycle in which someone buys out a magazine, fires the entire staff because they’re too expensive or potentially disloyal and then leaves the journalists to scramble for a new publication in an industry that doesn’t want to pay experienced journalists an appropriate salary. I don’t want to bounce between magazines for my entire career, making connections and friends and then saying goodbye when a new publisher inevitably buys the company and axes not only writers and editors but full publications. Furthermore, why would I enter an industry when it’s dying, when magazines are going digital and nobody wants to read a full article when a headline or a TikTok tells you everything you need to know? 

Yet I feel a fierce loyalty to journalism, partially because it’s “my thing” and partially because I believe that my generation of young journalists can restore the industry and make my dream career a possibility. 

Journalism doesn’t have to die, but it’s on us to save it. To bring the industry back to its former Watergate-era glory, we need to produce young journalists who feel comfortable standing up for themselves and their morals. Journalists aren’t corporate pawns who can be laid off at a moment’s notice because a parent company decided to announce cuts, like Disney did with National Geographic. The supposed disposability of journalism is even reflected at Emory University, which cut its journalism program 11 years ago in the interest of furthering the University’s academic mission, which means investing in the lucrative science disciplines. These universities and corporations fail to recognize that journalists are integral players in politics and reporters of culture; that without trustworthy, ethical journalists, there’s nobody to reliably tell the world about scientific developments. 

In a world where legitimate news can be disqualified as “fake news” by certain politicians and notoriously unethical TMZ runs Hollywood, it’s more important than ever that journalists are trained to stand up for their craft. It’s such a trope to hate the press, but without the press, politics will spiral even further out of control. Governmental corruption will become even more commonplace. It’s up to our generation of journalists to fix a broken industry from the foundation: ethics. Journalism must evolve with the times and respect the identity of sources. Consumers of news, similarly, must invest in good, ethical journalism. This might mean shelling out $1 a week for a New York Times subscription instead of glancing at clickbait Daily Mail headlines on Snapchat or even reading and engaging with local journalism (hint: Read The Emory Wheel). Journalism must mend internally before fighting against external forces. Only then can we begin to fight a bigger battle against the corporations that own our newspapers and magazines and treat journalists like chess pieces. 


Sophia Peyser (25C) is from New York City. 

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Sophia Peyser (25C) is an environmental science and english + creative writing major from New York City. In addition to managing the Opinion and Editorial Board sections of the Wheel, she works as an intern at Science for Georgia and a radio DJ at WMRE. In her free time, she loves thrifting in remote corners of Atlanta and drinking lavender lattes at Victory Calamity + Coffee.