- Jim Fuller is a senior writer for the Daily Herald, adviser to the student newspaper at College of DuPage and president of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association.
A young man came to my office the other day to inquire about a job at the college paper I oversee.
He was a philosophy major, so I asked why he wanted to try newsroom work. He told me reading was his first love, and that interest led him to writing stories in a journal. He enjoyed learning about major social and political issues and discussing them with other people.
At his age I would have described myself in much the same way. Those interests led me to study journalism 20 years ago.
So I asked him, “Other than today, have you ever thought about becoming a reporter?”
“Yes,” he replied. “But isn’t the industry having problems? It just seems like a tough time to be a journalist.”
I hear this a lot from students. There’s a seed of a journalist in them, but it’s suppressed by fear of entering a “dying profession.” Or maybe they’ve heard someone refer to journalists as untrustworthy or dishonorable. Fake news, some say.
There’s an entire conversation to be had about how propagandists, and some subpar practitioners, have harmed the perception of journalism in recent years. But there is a legion of reporters out there producing remarkable, world-changing work that too often fails to be the focus of such conversations.
For young people with a passion for reading and writing, a thirst for knowledge or a calling to make a difference, let me tell you what journalism is and isn’t:
Journalism is the pursuit of justice. You won’t do this by carrying badges, issuing subpoenas or banging a gavel. You carry notebooks, write Freedom of Information requests or bang on doors. You go where the crime is, where the oppressed are, where the forgotten live, where the poor struggle.
Journalism is serving as a watchdog of governments and public officials. You don’t get campaign donations, government pensions or taxpayer-funded healthcare. But you provide accountability and help people understand how and why the government impacts their daily lives.
Journalism is going to where wars are fought — around the world or in your own back yard. You won’t get medals, but you will get a byline that helps people understand the consequences of violent conflict.
Journalists don’t often get rich. And you likely won’t find fame, although you might be recognized at the grocery store from time to time. You’ll work whenever there is work to be done and stay as late as it takes. You’re unlikely to be the envy of friends who have six-figure incomes and work 9-to-5 jobs.
But your work will matter.
The words you write might change a perspective, the direction of a community, the quality of a school system or a key public policy.
If that’s a life that interests you, if you have a passion for truth, a thirst for knowledge and a calling to make a difference, you should pursue journalism and the NINA scholarship. Click the links to find the entry form and contest rules.
Oh, and that young philosophy major who came to talk to me about a spot on the school paper?
He starts next week.
His decision is noteworthy, because the observation he made during our first meeting is true — much more so for him than it was for me two decades ago: It is a tough time to be a journalist.
But tough times are when journalists are needed most.