Being a journalist is kind of like being Tom Brady. Regardless of how well you throw, there will always be people out there who hate you simply for doing your job. In a country rife with political partisanship and passionate fans, writing about anything from government to movies will inevitably attract vicious dissent.
As someone who has written about and covered a wide variety of topics and events, I’ve encountered people that show an obvious disdain for reporters. This disdain ranges from sarcastic derision—I’m often told, “Don’t print that!” by those who’ve just made a snarky comment about an event, as if my goal were to smear their good name—to open resentment, or a refusal to speak to me at all. These people are nowhere near the majority, and often sources are kind and helpful. But it happens frequently enough that I sometimes worry about being liked enough to do my job.
A college paper’s audience is smaller in both size and age diversity than a for-profit publication. This makes it easier to both anger and pander to the audience. Most writers will choose the latter. Every college paper has written several iterations of the same thinkpiece about public transit, marijuana legalization, education reform, and other issues that appeal strongly to young people. The Beacon is hardly immune to this issue, as our detractors and Lion’s Tooth gleefully point out every week. I’ve written about those cliches myself, and while I’m proud of my work, I admit that those articles made the same mistake that college students have been making for generations. They act like they know more than they do. All of my articles are factual and well-reasoned, but I can’t say that they add anything to the larger conversation.
The public’s distrust of the media puts reporters in a strange position. Both we and the public understand that a free press is a necessity in modern society, yet six out of 10 Americans don’t trust the media, according to a September 2015 Gallup poll. One of the challenges of the reporter’s job is talking to people who’d rather not be approached. Sources that refuse to talk must be absolved of their fear that they’ll be made to look a fool—they must be informed that we’re only here to tell the story of what happened and that we have no hidden agenda. But journalists can’t ethically promise to protect someone’s reputation. This is a profession bound to objectivity, not personalities.
Objectivity is obviously essential to journalism, but what’s often overlooked is how difficult true objectivity is. It’s human nature to support information that agrees with our views and attack information that doesn’t; we would much rather think that we are right than know the truth. This means that news has to be objective, but also supportive of our audience and sources because we depend on all of those to create news. Many organizations have given up genuine attempts at fairness and simply whisper their audience sweet nothings about how they’re always right on every issue. Despite having no hint of objectivity whatsoever in their reporting, Fox News is indeed number one in the ratings. As with all other artforms, young journalists often must choose between integrity and selling out.
This is the conflict of the young writer, and, in many ways, of all young artists. We have so much energy and passion to put into our work, but not the experience to know how to properly analyze and reflect upon it. We can research and quote all we want, but nothing will compare to the firsthand experience that only time will bring.
It’s not that I think young people have to suck; I wouldn’t be writing this or anything else if I did. Many of us are just beginning to find our artistic voices, and with that comes interesting and provocative experimentation. Until we’ve gained enough experience, everything we write as college students will be filtered through that perspective. There is a certain level of credibility that we must wait to achieve. Until then, I plan on making the most of my youthful foolishness by being as prolific as possible and writing in whatever capacity I may.