I just drove 10,000 miles and visited dozens of newsrooms to chronicle journalism in America. Here’s what I learned.

Follow my lede

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 17 for Medium.com.

By Meredith Cumming, SPJ Alabama member and is a University of Alabama instructor in the department of Journalism and Creative Media, and is the director of scholastic media.

One year ago this week — Sunshine Week — I set out to chronicle journalism in America in 2017 by driving 10,000 miles. As a former full-time journalist turned journalism professor I wanted to step out of my own newsroom experiences and learn. I was interested in holding a mirror up to the journalists who bring us the news every day. “Who,” I asked, “is watching the gatekeepers?” I visited news outlets big and small, for-profit and non-profit, traditional and cutting-edge across all media.

Meredith Cummings mug

Meredith Cummings

During this project, most days I would drive nine to 13 hours (my Apple watch thought I was dead), conduct interviews, shoot and record photos and video. Then late at night in hotels I would edit video and photos (to use in my journalism classes) and blog about my experiences. I now have hundreds of videos and photos as well as a library of interviews with journalists.

I could not have picked a better time to document journalists bearing witness to history. The month I left for the first leg of my trip March Madness tipped off, Chuck Berry died, Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing began, a federal judge blocked a revised travel ban, Attorney General Jeff Sessions dismissed Obama-era prosecutors, and former President Obama was accused of wiretapping Trump Tower.

Meredith Cummings photo in California

KPCC Southern California Radio, Pasadena, California, June 28, 2017. Photo by Meredith Cummings

And that was just month one.

National news moved faster than I could digest, as I covered journalists while they covered the news. I immersed myself in the study of watching creative people work. Everywhere I went there was major breaking news. In Santa Fe there was a shooting. In New York City there was a blizzard. The summer of 2017 was a summer of wildfires, wherever I was, narrowly escaping two. Fire in Sedona. Fire in Burbank. Fire in Breckinridge. I started to think the world was on fire.

The lessons I learned on my adventure to document American journalism have taken me a year of digesting what I saw — and many notes — to find patterns and overarching truths from my trip. I truly believe this strange, quirky journey I took is important. Regret is difficult to forecast, but I know I will not regret this.

Read Meredith Cummings full report on Medium by linking HERE.

Meredith Cummings mug

Meredith Cummings

Meredith Cummings is a SPJ Alabama member and is an instructor in the department of Journalism and Creative Media, and is the director of scholastic media at the University of Alabama. She has more than 20 years of experience in print, web and multimedia reporting. She directs the National Elementary School Press Association, the Alabama Scholastic Press Association, and the Multicultural Journalism Program, all based at UA. She also supervises editing and digital production for the Journalism and Creative Media department.


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