“Why on earth do you want to get into journalism? You’re not going to make any money.”
It was the fall of 1993, and I was suffering through a meeting with my guidance counselor. I had no interest in the advice he was dispensing. In fact, his discouragement only fueled my determination. By that time, I had already known for at least a decade that I wanted to be a reporter.
Actually, it wasn’t a ‘want’ — it was a foregone conclusion. While other kids dreamed about becoming veterinarians or professional hockey players, I was getting a jumpstart on my career. I would walk around the house broadcasting the “news” on my Fisher Price microphone (which my siblings just loved), and even had a pretend radio station. Not a radio show, mind you. An entire station — WJAN.
My favorite class in high school, shockingly, was journalism. If I could’ve spent all day at the Dodger (our school newspaper), I would have.
For decades, journalism has been my lifeblood. And so when more than 300 publications across the country ran editorials last week promoting freedom of the press, I got butterflies. I felt more hope than I had in a long time for the free press, something we tend to take for granted.
Now, let me point out that I normally stay far away from politically charged topics. But to me, this isn’t politics. It’s life. I’m extremely grateful to live in a country where we have a constitutional amendment that protects our right to report news without censorship. The free press promotes a system of checks and balances that’s needed more than ever in the world of social media. It functions as “a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing,” states the ACLU on its website. “It is also a vibrant marketplace of ideas, a vehicle for ordinary citizens to express themselves and gain exposure to a wide range of information and opinions.”
News reporters are human, and therefore make mistakes. (I know I’ve made my share of errors in 20-plus years as a writer and editor). Some journalists tell outright lies (Brian Williams, anyone?). Some abuse their power in the worst possible way (Matt Lauer is just one of many offenders). And if I was to say that all outlets present news in an unbiased manner, I’d revoke my own credentials.
Like I said, far from perfect. But as journalists, we play a pivotal role — not just by keeping people informed of the latest happenings, but by telling the stories that need to be told. And that means doing the research, putting aside our own personal feelings, and, sometimes, asking very tough questions.
As a sports reporter, my least favorite thing to do was to talk to the coach of the losing team. Coaxing usable quotes from a coach who just witnessed a horrific fourth quarter collapse, or watched a star player go down with an injury, wasn’t exactly an easy task — or a pleasant one, for that matter. I had one coach push my recorder away from his face, and one stare me down for what seemed like 6 hours after I asked why his team went for it on a fourth and inches.
All because I wanted to tell the story.
Fortunately, there were also people who appreciated my efforts. I had a football coach pull me aside and tell me I was the first reporter to ever do a feature on the offensive line, and a parent who told me she thought she’d never see her track star daughter land on the front page.
What journalists do is important. We aren’t the enemy; we’re the kids who dreamed of one day being Mary Tyler Moore. We’re the ones who aren’t willing to take everything at face value; who aren’t afraid to tackle thorny issues; who, thank goodness, don’t always listen to guidance counselors.