I’m pretty sure every journalism student has had this moment. The moment when you just feel so passionate about a cause that you want to shout from the rooftops of an injustice that has been done. You feel heat coursing through your veins as more information comes your way and people share their sides of the tale. You want to put your foot down to write something so grand that people stop and realize what is going on and they do something about it. Then reality comes like a cold front on the one day you’re brave enough to wear shorts. You learn that people are usually hesitant to act especially when it means defiance of something that has become a norm. This can be as little as the school bully who gets everyone’s money or the Nazis reign over most of Europe. It matters not where your cause places on the scale of injustice you just want something done about it. But with no brave voices, citizens, and leaders your cause just sort of dies. While you and every person must survive this disappointment you don’t know where to go from here.
As journalists we’re not supposed to take a side. We as people have sides that come from many factors, but that shouldn’t affect our work. We’re compartmentalizers who must share this human experience but not add our slant to it. While that’s about as idealistic as my point of this post just bear with me. Our job isn’t to be the white knights in shining armor; our job is to share what’s going on. Then what? Just pray that some brave person gets that heat coursing through their veins?
My freshman year, before I even step foot in a journalism class I learned about one of those causes. There is a lot of injustice in the community that I attend school in. Its perpetrators use poverty as a means to an end. There are many faces to this story but there is one that leads them all (isn’t there always?). I remembered the first time I laid sight to this person. As I took in their features I got the feeling that maybe those bad guys you see on TV really do have real life counter parts. As I continued to learn more through various people the picture being painted didn’t show much hope. There were at one time many white knights. One of them even ran a newspaper. That newspaper sadly closed by the end of my freshman year. That left only one newspaper in town that was very passive in their mentions of injustice.
Two years later, some things are changing. Some of those bad guys are getting called out, one voted out of office, others just getting a little hot under the collar. There is still the one person in charge. They continue to do as they please. I saw them just the other day. Still as arrogant as ever. They walked among the students at my school and while I wasn’t the only student who knew this person and their sins against the community, I was one of a very few. I felt ashamed because I felt that heat again. I just wanted to use my words, to inform the students who that person was that needed a police escort to the front row of a town hall meeting that they were interrupting to stir up trouble. My shame tripled as I looked around for those journalists who had been present just the year before and couldn’t find them. These days it seems like all there is to do about the problem is talk. People talk in low voices or behind closed doors. While I feel the answer doesn’t not lie in open insults and accusations. I do feel the answer lies in telling some stories. Looking at both sides of the issue and allowing people in the community to have a discussion (I warned you I was an idealist). The problem is my proposed solution is fear. Actually the problem is much more than fear, I think racism is the biggest problem of all. Don’t get me wrong. This hasn’t crippled this community. There is a lot of good done here. There are people who take the circumstances they are given and they make the most of it. They are far wiser than I, some days I just want to ask them what their secret is.
Which leads me to my question. As journalists we’re to be spotlights and not superheroes, we aren’t soapboxes (arguably). So what does a young journalist do? Swallow it like nasty pill? These days I’ve taken a spot on the fence and just watched, I’ve mostly succeeded in keeping my opinions to myself. But then there are younger students who are feeling that heat, it’s coursing through their veins. Part of me wants to encourage them; the other part wants to throw some cold water on them. Instead I stay silent. I warn them about slanting, tell them to research, and pray they give up.