Journalism Writ Large
It’s easy to feel irrelevant as a writer, especially as a student journalist, but there’s something bigger at stake than ego.
By Mattie Winowitch, Waynesburg University
Sometimes I feel like what I do isn’t important.
I think it’s a feeling that a lot of college students experience, but lately, it’s been more prevalent in my life. I stay up all night doing layout and editing articles for a newspaper that next to no one reads. I spend probably a good hour every week writing articles for this website that I’m just going to assume no one clicks on and lately, it feels like I’m spending a whole lot of time on content that no one cares about.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a Journalism major.
Looking at the other students at my college who are studying nursing and other STEM fields that will eventually save the world and everyone in it, I find myself in a parallel universe of comparison. It’s hard for me to equate my shitty writing skills with saving a human life or any other noble, decent act.
But then I read a story like this.
This. This changed everything. Somewhere between an egotistical rant and feeling awfully sorry for myself, I lost the true meaning behind journalism: Holding those in power accountable.
Otherwise known as the “Watchdog Role,” keeping those in power accountable is the number one ethical role that journalists must play within their profession. Contrary to popular belief, journalists aren’t just meant to make listicles and random rants (cough,me right now, cough). While those things are fun and entertaining as all get out, that’s not what journalism is really about.
It stems back to the beginning of free and independent press in America.
Here’s a quick history lesson. Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. He stumbled upon America—well, it wasn’t called America back then, but just go with it. A few altercations take place, and eventually, word gets back to Europe that this America place is pretty dope. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, Great Britain is sending over people and pilgrims by the boatload.
Fast-forward another few years to around 1690, and pretty soon we’re on the brink of civilized society. The only form of news that people in America (can’t call them Americans yet, because that doesn’t happen until 1776) had back in those days was old news from England. They tried to sneakily make their own newspaper, called “Publick Occurences,” but it got shut down pretty quickly once people from across the lake got wind of it. Apparently, they were talking shit on some French kings. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
Basically it became a war against the British government. People wanted to read news, but getting the Stamp of Authority (a.k.a. having the Brits say it was okay) was a pain in the neck, and eventually (after a few road bumps), people starting printing and publishing things without any permission. Journalistic bad-assery at its finest.
The biggest problem was that politics became a hot topic within these publications, and suddenly, as their names began to show up on the pages in a negative context, politicians and other members of the government started getting really ticked off.
Thus became the issue of those in power versus the press. There were laws and acts put in place to try to destroy the newspaper industry. Ever hear the phrase, “No taxation without representation!” as you were drifting in and out of consciousness during your history class? Yeah, that pertains to this situation. Specifically, it was when they instilled the Stamp Act which put a tax on all paper products.
After a long, hard fight, our forefathers gained the free press for us. And for the first time ever, it was considered just to keep those in power accountable, as long as what you wrote was true.
The word “true” has shifted through the years, but at the end of the day, that’s what journalists are meant to do. They are meant to inform the people what is going on so we aren’t all just living our daily lives as our president and other lawmakers do things behind closed doors that we may or may not approve of.
You might be thinking, “Okay, but this has no relevance to modern day times. The president tweets now, so I know what he’s doing.”
Let’s drift back to a sad memory in our history: September 11, 2001.
About a year after 9/11, President George W. Bush announced that Saddam Hussein has a massive stockpile of “biological weapons.” Journalists back then were trying very hard to hold Bush accountable and to fact-check his statements. They were called “un-American,” and made fun of. So, they stopped pushing.
That very speech, among many others from Bush and Dick Cheney, was what eventually inspired the Iraq War.
But once the Iraq War began, we learned that there were no weapons of mass destruction. And there were an estimated 250,000 deaths that became of that war. 250,000 innocent people dead, simply because there was a gag-order on journalists.
Now do you see why journalism is important?
Now that I’ve danced all around my point, I’d like to go back to that article about the high schoolers who busted their new principal. That is a perfect example of how journalists should be operating. Sure, the consequences of digging deep and asking hard questions could be scary, but it’s even scarier to not know exactly who is in charge of you.
So yes, maybe nobody reads my school newspaper. And maybe no one will even read this article. But these things are in place in the event that if something were to happen, or if a huge story were to break out, the people would be informed.
As a student journalist myself, I vow to uphold the greatest integrity, and to only publish what is good and true. I also vow to protect my sources, as well as the lives of the American people, no matter what it takes. Why? Because it matters to me.