Trinidad: An open letter to journalism students
Dear journalism students,
Whether you are approaching graduation or you still have time left in Allen Hall, we have all dedicated our academic journey to a single, common goal: a commitment to truth.
And this commitment to truth is something we need now more than ever.
In a world that often seems so big and where we seem so small, truth is the great equalizer. Armed with truth, citizens have the information they need to make important decisions regarding what is best for their communities, their government and their lives.
And journalism empowers the powerless with truth to protect them from the powerful.
Whether you are a writer, anchor or editor, you are part of the invisible fourth branch of government that requires a sense of civic duty and devotion to truth to protect our communities from abuses of power.
This is why I was so drawn to the profession in the first place and committed almost six years of school to develop my skills in it. I wanted to be the next Walter Cronkite or the next Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, not because they are the rock stars of the profession, but because their work held the feet of the powerful to the fire.
Despite my unwavering devotion to truth, this role also comes with constraints that ultimately pushed me away from it.
Amid a divisive 2016 election, I was constrained by the objectivity that journalism requires to maintain my credibility as an unbiased journalist. As a result, I found myself unable to speak a different kind of truth: my personal truth. Instead of speaking truth to power, I felt as if I was preaching truth to the choir.
After the election, I viewed my objectivity as complicity, as I was obligated to treat both sides as equals. I couldn’t bear the thought that my complicity somehow helped elect a White House and Congress so averse to truth.
I decided objectivity was a burden I could not personally bear, so I abandoned my dream to become a journalist so I could freely speak my truth to power.
But that doesn’t mean you should abandon yours.
We are now in an age where lies and deceit can easily be mistaken for fact and truth.
People are eager to denounce unfavorable truths as fake news, a single broadcast company preaches propaganda as truth on local TV stations across the nation and the slow demise of local journalism is removing citizens’ access to the very truth they rely on.
Although I have decided to leave journalism, I would not be able to speak my truth without the journalists who devote their lives to it.
It is completely normal to feel doubt about whether journalism is the right profession for you. I spent six years on the fast track to becoming a journalist only to make a U-turn with only one year left before I graduate. But it is important to know why you want to become a journalist.
The purpose of journalism, at its most basic level, is to keep us informed. From the events, issues and people who influence our lives, journalism can sometimes be reduced to what people find interesting or relevant, but it is much more than that.
Journalists have a responsibility to the public to give power to the powerless and a voice to the voiceless by spreading truth.
And if you are in journalism seeking fame, fortune or glory and are willing to compromise your commitment to the truth to accomplish that, you should leave journalism behind because you are pursuing it for the wrong reasons.
I may have given up my dream of being a journalist, but that doesn’t mean that you should. Without journalists who have a commitment to truth, we wouldn’t be able to decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction, and we’d be susceptible to those seeking to exploit that.
The world doesn’t just need more journalists; it needs more journalists who are committed to truth. At this exact moment in history, we need you to provide that truth.
Would you like to increase opportunities for women and people of color in journalism? Now is your chance to support the Emerald’s program by helping us send reporter Ryan Nguyen and Emily Goodykoontz to the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference this June!