What do you want to do when you grow up? Be a Journalist.
I just spent a month at home for winter break during my senior year. With one semester left, I am getting asked over and over again the same question. What is next? Why do you want to be a journalist? And well, I understand the curiosity, for the first time in my whole life I have no idea what is next for me.
Four years ago there was a prevalent question asked by everyone: ”what college are you going to?” That question was irritating, especially because I continually changed my mind between a big city, big name school and a small-town, lesser known school (FYI: the small-town school of Elon University beat out New York University). This question should really have served as preparation for today’s question:
“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?”
Each time this question is asked it feels like it I am being yelled at, I am sure my face is already in a grimace, because I know what is coming next. The conversation will look like this:
Rebecca: “I am a print/online journalism major and I really want to go into the print field. I would love to work for magazines but I have experience with newspapers.”
Opinionated Person: “Journalism?! You are wasting money on journalism? That field is dying. How do you plan on living? I could create a blog. Can you change your major? Are you ready to only eat tomato soup for the rest of your life? Are you planning on marrying rich?”
(The answers: Yes, journalism. No, I am not wasting my money. But yes I am spending money on this. I plan on finding a job. I cannot change my major this late in the game, nor do I want to. I will not eat tomato soup for the rest of my life, I don’t even really like soup. Oh and no I do not plan on marrying because of money, and that question is the least original and most offensive of all.)
But they are wrong. There is hope in the field of journalism and it is not going to be able to simply be replaced by blogs. I wish that I could take all of the doubters and nay-sayers with me through my college experience so they could realize this. I think the one thing that studying media in college really does, is it allows you to see the world, and it allows you to see how much the world needs the media.
This is the answer I wish I could really provide every time someone asks me “what do you want to do with the rest of your life?”
I want to write stories that bring that voice of someone, who otherwise would not be heard, to a large audience: It is still possible to find a large audience for a story in today’s society. While people may turn to online media more now then they usually do, they are still heading towards traditional news sources, according to a story titledFive myths about the future of journalism on Washington Post’s website. Of the 200 sites with the highest traffic for news, 81 percent are traditional media or aggregators of it. And some media sources are actually seeing their audience—print and online—grow. So when I write stories they will still be read by people, there is still an audience for these articles. And I feel confident there will always be an audience for a well written, informative story. We live in our own worlds and we all love to think that we are educated and cultured, but we are still the products of our environment. It is up to journalism to break us out of those confines and let us hear about the issues and the events, and most importantly, the voices of people who are beyond the boundaries of our day-to-day lives.
I want to tell the truth. People often ask me why I don’t write novels or practice public relations instead. This is when the grimace leaves my face, and I work really hard to refrain from rolling my eyes. Yes, I love writing, that is what led me to journalism, but not all writing is the same. I want to go find the truths of the world and publish them. I want to find out what really caused the government to make that decision, what really led this seemingly ordinary person to do something outstanding, why something really is the way it is. I want to ask questions, and then I want to find the answers to this question. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Project of Excellence in Journalism have developed a book called “The Elements of Journalism.” The top element of journalism? To tell the truth. This is the big difference between writing and writing journalism.
I want to write stories that resonate with people on every corner of the planet. For a while, people thought that the key to print media was to write about local issues. And, let me be the first to say, I think local news is important. I think it is important to let every community have its time to shine—the city council meeting of a small town is newsworthy for an audience and the 9-year-old girl who won the spelling bee and started a program to help literacy rates deserves to be written about. There is an audience for this, no matter how small the audience is. But I think the key to content that thrives, no matter the platform the content is on, is finding the universals in every story. I want to write in such a way that I can make any issue relate to any person. We are all humans. We all feel the same things. We all have moments where we are elated, heartbroken, disappointed, angry, sad, terrified, nervous, jealous and we all can relate to another person going through those meanings. We may live in a world where it seems everyone is apathetic, but the key is to create empathy. No matter how caught up in our own world we are, we still have the ability to empathize and I think that regard for human life is what will remind us that the natural disasters on the other side of the world do matter, the scandal in another government does matter and even that profile on the 9-year-old girl who won her spelling bee and is trying to improve literacy rates does matter. I think this story about congresswoman Gabby Giffords written by Newsweek is just as important as this story in my local paper about a man who gave his wife a dollar bill to represent every day of their 49-year marriage and the story behind their marriage, the News and Observer. They are both stories about humanity that will help educate, inspire and hopefully cause someone to think.
I want to educate people and produce passion in people. I want to travel the world and meet amazing people and get to string words together that allow others to realize how amazing these people are and these places are. People tend to scan the headline and read the current events and feel up to date. Perhaps they could pass a current events test, but how often are you tested on current events? (Well if you are a journalism student then perhaps a lot, but the average person is not a journalism student). I think the real test should be on how many
topics can someone talk in both an educated and passionate way. There are plenty of people who can talk about a lot of things in an educated way, and there are even more people who can talk about something in a passionate rant. But to find someone who can speak about a lot of topics in a way that balances education and balance? That is a rare, beautiful person. But I strive to write articles that will increase this number. I want to write articles that are about important issues that allow the average citizen to get educated about something important, but I want to do it through the voice of people. I want to use emotions and the experience of living that allows people to truly connect with an issue. By putting a face to an issue, it helps people find their passion. I want to travel all over the world and write stories that will make people more aware of everything; I want to write stories that could inspire a young girl to be passionate and well read on what is going on in the Middle East. I want to write stories that will inspire someone to spend 45 minutes reading up on a current event until they feel confident enough to voice their opinion on the matter. I want to write stories that spark change.
Oh yeah, and I want to be a journalist.