Dear Journalism Students,
You are not the enemy.
Not of your school’s student government.
Not of the college administration.
And certainly not of the American people.
I felt the need to tell you this after yet another very public incident in which a politician castigated a member of the press corps and then eliminated his access to his beat. His crime? Having the temerity to ask questions that many people in his audience have, but that a powerful individual did not want to answer.
Jim Acosta is not a perfect human being or a perfect journalist. He’s not Joan of Arc and he’s not Bob Woodward. However, he’s also not a “rude, terrible person,” nor was he out of bounds in his desire to press the most powerful man in the world on issues that matter to his viewers. I say that without a politically motivated bone in my body. Had it been a Democrat, a Tea Party member, a Dixie-crat, a Whig or a Know-Nothing party member, I would feel exactly the same.
And so should you.
You are not vultures. You are not scumbags. You are certainly not “fake news.” You are not any of the other things I and others have been called simply because we had to tell stories people didn’t like.
You have chosen a profession that gives you an insight into the world that few get and even fewer fully appreciate.
You will be there to create the rough draft of history. You will write stories and take photos that capture slivers of time. You will help people celebrate the greatest events of their lives. You will showcase people in some of their darkest moments as well.
You will produce content that draws anger and rebuke from people who don’t like the fact they got caught doing something stupid. You will also produce content that grandmothers pin to the front door of their refrigerator. You will show up every day and start from zero and when you go home, you will have built another full accounting of the day’s most important events.
You are Sisyphus with a press pass.
You are part of a family now, one that stands with you when times are tough. A family that when it doesn’t know what else to do to help you, will send you pizza from all over the country. A family that feels the pain of what you go through and will tell you, “I’ve been down here before. I know the way out.”
You will take your share of beatings. You will screw up and people will be so happy to jump on those rare errors and use them to discount and dismiss everything you have ever done. You will question yourself for days, weeks, months after those mistakes. You will wonder if what you’re doing matters.
And then, you will get back up. You will persist. Because that’s what we have trained you to do.
I can’t speak for all of your professors, student media advisers or journalistic peers, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say, hang in there. You picked the right job and people out there need you. It feels tough when news organizations are “shedding” jobs to help increase hedge-fund profitability. It’s hard to go home and explain to your parents why you would ever want to do this. It’s not easy to bite your tongue at Thanksgiving Dinner when your Uncle Earl, who raises pugs for profit, starts talking about “the fucking media” and how you and your ilk are responsible for everything from higher parking rates to the Hindenburg disaster.
Hang in there. It will get better. It will get worse. Then, it will get better again. It is what it is.
You will grow. You will improve. You will write, report, photograph, draw, design and build amazing things. You will feel a sense of pride that you made a difference, no matter what the cost. You will develop resiliency and strength.
You can do all this, even though for some of you writing a lead right now feels like trying to throw a strawberry through a brick wall. You will feel this, even as everyone from your roommate to the president of the United States feels compelled to beat the crap out of you. You will matter in the long reach of history, whether it’s on a campus, local, state, national or international level.
You will be many great and mighty things.
But you are not now, nor have you ever been, the enemy of the American people.
The Doctor of Paper