Finding my journalistic calling in New York City
My experience at the College Media Association convention
During her speech at the College Media Association convention in New York City this past weekend, Ann Shoket, former editor in chief of Seventeen, emphasized the importance of honoring your childhood dreams and the limitless aspirations that you dream up sitting in your teenage bedroom.
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was six years old. I wrote a story about my cat called “The Cat That Went to School” which spawned a whole series about his adventures.
By the time I was 16, I dreamed of making it big as a journalist in New York City. But when I didn’t get accepted into the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, I decided that perhaps journalism wasn’t for me after all and decided to pursue other avenues.
For a while, I considered becoming an English professor or high school teacher. I briefly considered social work or nursing out of a desire to help people. Then I got involved in activism in college and I considered going into politics. But throughout all of this, I was always writing in my spare time; writing about my experiences, my beliefs and just about anything that popped into my mind. Writing is the one thing that has always been a part of me, the one thing I always come back to.
When I transferred from community college to UB last semester, I was a communication and political science major intent on pursuing a career in political public relations. I decided to join The Spectrum as an outlet for my writing, but had long ago let go of my aspiration to become a journalist.
Slowly but surely, reporting for The Spectrum reminded me why I wanted to be a journalist and why that was my big, bold aspiration as a 16 year old.
I admire my 16-year-old self’s limitless optimism, imagination and ability to dream big. But when I received my rejection letter from Newhouse, I lost that spark. In that moment, it was like all of my plucky, idealistic teenage ambition was drained right out of me, and I decided it was high time I set my sights on what I deemed as more “practical” goals.
But that spark wasn’t lost forever. It was simply lying dormant.
This weekend I felt it ignite again.
When Ann Shoket talked about listening to and honoring your childhood dreams, it struck a chord with me. It reminded me how writing is the one thing I always come back to. It reminded me what it was like to be 16 years old, unsullied by cynicism and broken dreams.
Walking down the streets of New York, I felt like I was seeing the city with new eyes. Suddenly I was 14 again, visiting the city for the very first time and staring up at the skyscrapers and flashing lights with childlike wonder.
I suddenly had a newfound vigor for my journalism career. I sat in the front row of each session I attended at the convention, perched on the edge of my seat, eagerly scribbling notes and asking as many questions as I could think of.
I learned so much that I never would have just from taking journalism classes and writing for The Spectrum.
There is one thing that has made me hesitant to embrace pursuing a journalism career: I am very politically active, which would be a conflict of interest with my role as a journalist, should I pursue it professionally.
But I have come to realize that there are a number of ways to serve democracy and justice beyond standing at the front lines of a protest.
Someone needs to tell the story about the protest. Someone needs to amplify the voices of those who struggle to be heard. Someone needs to keep the public informed at a time when journalism and the public’s right to information is being scorned by the President himself.
As I was leaving the conference, I stepped on a day-old issue of The Washington Post. I looked down and saw the paper’s new motto in boldface: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Journalists have a responsibility to keep the public informed, now more than ever. Democracy cannot exist without an informed public, without journalists monitoring the government and keeping it accountable and honest.
I have always had a love of writing and an innate talent for it, but until recently, I was uncertain how I could fuse it with my aspirations to change the world and make it a better place. But Ann Shoket’s call to honor my childhood dreams and a serendipitous run-in with a copy of The Washington Post suddenly made my life’s calling clear.
Maddy Fowler is the assistant news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.