I cried on the way to my first day of work as a journalist.

I was 23-years-old, single, fresh out of graduate school and unsure about where my life was leading. I was worried whether staying in town after school was a mistake, worried about what my future may hold, and whether accepting a job in newspapers was the right choice.

My dad told me to trust that God had a plan for my life. One of my editors at the time told me to give the job a year, and that if I didnít like working at The Tuscaloosa News, heíd help me find something else.

And so, I drove to work in tears. If only I had known at the time how lucky I really was.

I distinctly remember the moment I realized the power of the printed word, the impact that telling peopleís stories could have.

Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I went to a Red Cross emergency shelter on the University of Alabama campus. I originally expected to talk to people from West Alabama whose homes had been damaged by fallen trees when Katrinaís after-effects blew through our area. But I quickly realized how wrong I was. I interviewed men, women and families who had lost everything in the storm, some who had been separated from their loved ones while trying to flee the Gulf Coast. Evacuees crowded around the television at the shelter, trying to find out about the damage as aerial shots of New Orleans lit up the TV screen. At the shelter, I met the Stricklands, a family from New Orleans East, who had brought nothing but a change of clothes ó a family who ultimately lost everything in the storm. I wrote about the family and the other evacuees for the next dayís newspaper.

The next morning, my voicemail at work was full with messages of people wanting to help. Within 24 hours, the Stricklands had food and clothes. Within 3 days they had an apartment with donated furniture. There were hundreds of evacuees like them in Tuscaloosa and I witnessed first-hand how people banded together to help.

I had been on the job for 8 months, but it was a lesson that will likely stay with me for the rest of my life; I witnessed the power of the written word, the importance of telling peopleís stories that might not otherwise get told and I realized I had the ability to make a positive impact on my community.

It was the moment that I fell in love with journalism.

I will say that itís a sometimes thankless job. Journalists often go years without raises, work sometimes odd hours in an industry thatís now known for itís job insecurity.

But those who do it are some of the most dedicated people Iíve known. For instance. I had one colleague who, after an EF-4 tornado hit our town in 2011, discovered his own apartment had been turned to rubble. Instead of trying to salvage his belongings, he got out his notebook and started reporting, working for 3 days straight following the tornado because he had nowhere else to go. He knew the importance of the work.

Itís the journalist who might miss their kidís t-ball game, repeatedly miss dinner with their spouse, or miss tucking their kids in bed at night because they are covering late-night meetings. They do it for a love of the job, but also because they know the gravity of what they do.

Journalists are dedicated to the truth ó for in few other fields is the importance of facts and truth drilled into you very early in your education ó they know well the role their job plays in society and in democracy.

If it werenít for local journalists, thereíd be no one to let the public know when elected leaders plan to increase taxes, close schools or open up new ones, no one to write about a new recycling effort or even when trash pickup days change. No one said covering local government or education is glamorous ó Iíll be the first to say the meetings are often boring ó but when it comes to peopleís every-day lives, the decisions made by our leaders matter.

Itís the role of the press to ensure those decisions are public, that the people have a voice and that it remains that way. On the Washington Postsí website under the masthead, a new statement went up last week, stating ďDemocracy dies in darkness.Ē

President Donald J. Trump recently stated that journalists arenít his enemy, but the ďenemy of the American people.Ē
But to that, I say, we are not enemies. We are your neighbor, your family member or friend. We may be the person sitting next to you in church, or a mom in the PTA. We might be the woman picking up her dry cleaning, or the dad coaching his kidís soccer team.

We are Americans; men, women, people of different races and religious backgrounds. But we are committed to the truth ó because our democracy depends on it.

ó Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.