The summer after I graduated from college, I interned as a reporter for a paper in a small town about 45 minutes west of my hometown.
It was my third internship, but my first paid one, and although the people were great, and I learned from the experience, there were several times when I found myself wondering…is this all there is?
It was the same feeling I had at my previous internships, and occasionally at the student newspaper I worked at in college. I majored in journalism, with an emphasis in news and information, yet I just couldn’t see myself being a reporter for long. I looked at it as the beginning of my career as a writer, but not something I wanted to do forever.
This confused me. For as long as I can remember, words have been my passion. When I expressed this desire to my parents, to teachers and other adults along the way, I was constantly steered toward journalism. It seemed like the only logical way to go when it came time to choose a major in college. Yet, somehow for some reason, reporting didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would.
However, while studying journalism in college, and while working at newspapers, I did find there were parts of reporting I loved.
For one, you get to write everyday. Sometimes it’s good stuff. Sometimes it’s really not. You also get to talk to people everyday, to a wide variety of people, and you get to hear their stories, their opinions, and what they have to say. No two days on the job are the same. You are constantly learning something new. You get to research and examine issues, and bring attention to topics of importance. It can be very noble work, and it matters. Journalism is at the core of democracy. I truly believe that the work of reporters — even what may seem trivial— is extremely valuable, and every single reporter should take pride in what he/she does everyday.
Despite all that, and how much I have come to respect journalism as an institution, I had to ask myself what my ultimate career goals were, and how journalism would help get me there. I’m still figuring that out, but my recent experiences have made it a bit more clear.
But during my time there, I began to realize there was something about me that was different from my co-workers. When I would learn about bills in the state legislature that would harm more Kansans than help, I couldn’t shake it. I would get off the phone from an interview, turn to the person sitting next to me and declare, “Can you believe this?!”
When I heard people’s stories of struggle, of how legislators’ proposals would make their lives worse, my heart felt heavy. These issues often weighed on my mind for days. I tried to write stories as objectively as possible, presenting all sides and quoting several sources. Yet, sometimes (depending on the topic), I couldn’t help but feel in my heart there certainly was a right and a wrong.
The stories of my sources stuck with me long after the articles were published. I felt that simply quoting them wasn’t enough. I felt responsible. I felt that I had to stand up for them. I felt, essentially, that I had to do something.
This is what differentiated me from others I worked with. Of course all the journalists I have worked with cared. We all care. It’s part of why we do journalism in the first place. But for the most part, my co-workers were able to put that care away when necessary. To tell the story, and move on, whereas I wanted to tell the story, then take to the streets with signs and protests. I tried to silence that part of me for a while, but ultimately I couldn’t. And I don’t think I’m supposed to.
You see, I got tired. I got tired of acting like there are two sides to every issue. I got tired of presenting issues of inequality and civil rights as if there is actual substance to arguments of prejudice and discrimination. There is justice and there is injustice, and I refuse to find “balance” in injustice.
While in college at KU, George Stephanopolous (a television journalist for ABC News) visited campus. I went to see him speak, and I honestly only remember one thing he said. He talked about the first time he visited Washington D.C. How the first time he saw the Capitol, he knew. He felt in his heart and in his gut that there was nowhere else for him to be.
“Wait for that moment,” he told a room full of college students. “Don’t settle for work you are not passionate about.”
I always think about that. About listening to my heart. It took a bit of self reflection, but I’m confident traditional journalism just isn’t for me. I’m still figuring it out. I think I will always be “figuring it out” in a sense. But I also believe the best careers are the ones in which you don’t allow yourself to settle. Actually, the best anything, really.
There’s not much I know for certain right now at 23 years-old, but I do know, in my heart and in my gut, that this slight career change feels right. More right than reporting ever did.