This post by Mike Zacchio really inspired me to write my own reasons for being a journalist. And why, even though I’ve stopped writing for media, I am still and always will be a journalist.
As my students know, I can be “inspiring” on the topic — their word, not mine. Journalists make a difference. Sometimes it’s a good one. That’s worth trying. Journalists tell stories. That’s worth doing, especially if they’re stories that no one else sees. Journalists express important truths. Not always, but sometimes we get a few words in the right order, as someone famous once said, and it can nudge the world toward positive change. However, I don’t see it as the journalist’s job to change the world. It’s our job to describe it. Let other people change it, if they feel so moved. I have been happy just to have the job of describing it. People miss things all the time, often because they don’t have access to them. I can see things — and so can you — that others miss. And I can get access that others may not be able to get. Writing those experiences is really worth doing.
I never thought I would become a teacher, but teaching journalism and media literacy are the best work I have ever done. As I told a colleague last week, I have never been happier in my life.
Today, journalism is open to everyone and I really like that. I want all my students to think of themselves as potential journalists, even if they don’t feel the urge to go into the field professionally. I teach because I want them to have the skills should they ever feel the urge to publish something — perhaps because they just can’t stand NOT to publish it. They might get an overwhelming feeling that the world needs them to say what they have to say, or tell the story of someone else who is saying or doing something interesting, valuable, impressive or even terrible. They might do it because the world needs to know.
That’s why I do it — training others to become journalists, but also training them to think deeply about journalism and what can be done to save it. As someone once said (and I did look this up but could not find the author’s name), “I was a good player, but I can be a great coach.” Imagine, having the ability to send hundreds of new journalists into the field. I can do that! I don’t require that they go for official “jobs” in the declining mainstream media. I only hope they end up with the skills to see and tell stories that need to be told — and publish them. They don’t need a media job to do that.
I do care if they get jobs when they want them, and I’ll keep working with local media organizations to help them do that. I had so much fun working for a daily newspaper, I would not want to deny that to anyone just because I’m disillusioned with the MSM. It’s my students who will someday have the chance to improve the mainstream media, after all. Yes, I fear they could end up feeling like Leonard Cohen when he wrote, “They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom, trying to change the system from within.” One thing about journalism — it would not be boring! Twenty years of frustration, more like. But my 20 years were worth it, to be able to do this.