I've been covering manufacturing, an industry in a state of change, for almost five years here at Crain's Cleveland Business. I quickly learned how many of my own perceptions of the industry were outdated.
I grew up in Trumbull County, Ohio, in the shadows of Youngstown's fallen steel industry. Companies were eager to tell me about how their plants weren't, as many said, the "dark, dirty and dangerous" factories of years before.
While manufacturing employs far fewer people today, it's vibrant and innovative. Production is high. I've seen fascinating technology at work, from 3D printers to industrial robots. Manufacturers, for the most part, know their industry has changed and has continued to change, but public perception has lagged behind.
It's such a privilege to get to cover an industry during a time of change. And it comes with such responsibility.
As reporters, this is something we need to keep in mind as we cover our beats. We're not only documenting history with our words, but we're also—purposefully or not—shaping how the public views industries, movements, people.
I love being a reporter. I get to meet new people and see new things all the time. I have license to ask people all sorts of questions, from how a machine works to what their greatest passion is. I get paid to be curious and social and, you know, to write, which is what I've wanted to do since I first learned what writing was.
But there's a real weight to this job, too, and it's in how we can responsibly and fairly write about our beats, and the people, companies and institutions that compose them. And this is never more important than when that beat is drastically changing.
I think that's more true today, post-recession, than it has been in a long time. Health care has been adapting to the changing insurance marketplace and politics has changed almost immeasurably in recent years. Workplaces and society at large are finally, finally grappling with the sexist treatment many women experience daily.
And media are far from exempt.
As we try to find new ways to fund our work and push back against clickbait and fake news, we have our own perception problem to deal with. One way to address it is through our coverage, by being as thorough and as precise as possible while reporting on these changing times. It can be hard, but it's some of the most important work we do.
We owe it to our readers who expect us to be their eyes and ears in unfamiliar places. And we owe it to the sources who trust us with their stories.
McCafferty covers manufacturing and education for Crain's Cleveland Business, a sister publication of Rubber & Plastics News.