On Thursday, March 30, the University of Maine welcomed two reporters from The Washington Post to speak at the “Alan Miller: Excellence in Journalism” public talk at the Wells Conference Center. Jessica Contrera and Katie Mettler traveled to UMaine from Washington D.C. to visit various journalism classes and talk to students about the importance of reporting and how it changes lives.
Both women prepared a presentation titled “Clickbait, Fake News, And The Fourth Estate: Why Journalism Is More Vital Than Ever.” The presentation included discussion about why the idea that “journalism is dead” is far from the truth, as well as how to find out if a source is credible or not. After the talk, they answered questions regarding diversity in journalism and discussed sexism that they have witnessed in the field. They also shared stories of their personal experiences with guests.
The event brought nearly 200 people of all ages and backgrounds. The talk began with an introduction from Lauren Abbate, a 2015 graduate from the University of Maine. She first introduced Katie Mettler, a general assignment reporter from The Post. Mettler is a member of the Morning Mix, meaning that she goes to work when many are going to bed and works through the night with her team to have stories ready to read when people are waking up in the morning.
Next, Abbate introduced Jessica Contrera, a staff writer from The Post. Contrera is also a general assignments reporter and is currently completing a fellowship on the National Enterprises Team. She has written about teenagers in a middle school, programs to keep children out of the foster care system and other issues, including health care. Recently, she completed a series with a colleague on how technology is changing the way that kids are growing up and seeing the world. Metter and Contrera met each other during their undergraduate years at Indiana University, where they both received their degrees in 2014.
“Our democracy cannot survive without the news,” Mettler said. “The most important impact that we can make in journalism is just coming to work every day, sitting down and doing one small story and as they accumulate, they build and they inform our readers. They help us understand each other more.” Contrera followed, saying, “Journalism is always changing and we are looking more and more like the readers.”
Journalism has evolved in the last decade and faced several challenges. “It’s important to remember that the business model is struggling,” Mettler began, “but in journalism, we have more ways to tell stories and interact with readers than we ever have before. It’s important to not look at the internet as something that has killed journalism, but has given us more opportunities to do our jobs better.”
In a world where reporters are constantly under fire and being accused of reporting “fake news,” it is difficult to find out what is accurate and what is not, according to the two. Both reporters reminded the audience to be skeptical and ask questions when they read stories that seem off. As the talk came to a close, Mettler and Contrera left the crowd with one piece of advice, “Advocate for yourselves, it is the only way that things will change.”