It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been writing for the Campus Times for almost four years now. Barring some seriously unexpected circumstances, this will be my last article for the paper, as I graduate in a month.
It feels strange. I’ve written dozens of pieces for the majority of the CT’s sections at this point, covering everything from politics to student theater to competitive Tetris, but there’s still so much more for me to talk about. I’m not a journalism major, and I certainly don’t have any plans to work directly in the field after I graduate, but there’s something about this job that keeps drawing me back. There’s something about journalism that feels extremely important. But what is it?
“Journalism” as a term defies easy definition. In a vacuum, it’s not super intuitive that opinion pieces, media criticism, the reporting of news, candid photography, and just about everything else that belongs in a newspaper really, truly belong in a newspaper of all things. Yet there’s a harmony to a well-organized and diverse paper, a balance between style and substance, and an assertion that everything is just where it needs to be. The job of a good presentations department is to ensure that balance, crafting a structure for the paper that makes navigating between sections easy for those only interested in some and fun for those who want to take their time with the whole publication.
A completed unit of journalism — a newspaper — clearly has a reason for being. and is a great way to spend your morning, but providing entertainment over breakfast doesn’t really explain what journalism actually is. But the “what” doesn’t really matter; it’s easier to understand journalism if you consider not what it is, but what it does.
Unlike most writing, good journalism doesn’t justify itself; instead, it’s justified by its subject. A great opinions piece expresses, well, an insightful opinion about something. A news article talks about current events. A review, naturally, reviews something. Sports writing can accomplish all of the above. This drive — to comment, to explore, to investigate — is why satire feels so much more at home in newspaper humor sections than other varieties of comedy writing. Satire is to comedy as news coverage is to nonfiction.
Maybe all this isn’t some kind of groundbreaking realization, but I think it helps explain what it is about journalism that keeps me coming back. The process of journalism is to build a bridge of words between the real world and the printed page, whatever form that takes. The reason it’s become the primary mode of writing about current events is that, when done properly, there’s nothing that surpasses it as a way to provide context and impart meaning to the events of people’s everyday lives. Bad and dishonest journalism is such a problem because, when believed, it can warp people’s sense of the world they live in and leave them ill-equipped to understand or respond to reality. Journalism is that important.
It’s also an incredible way to become a better writer. There’s nothing like short-term deadlines to make your prose snappier and more concise, and the responsibility of communicating complicated ideas to a broad audience means that anyone who sticks with a journalistic publication and schedule will see their writing grow more accessible and more intelligent. Working with editors, while it can be frustrating, is a tremendous boon to anyone interested in improving their style, and the back-and-forth process of refining journalism in the edit is the most productive kind of peer review I’ve ever encountered.
I’ve almost come to the end of this opinions piece without really having expressed an opinion, or at least not an actionable one. I’ve told you about what I think journalism is, why I think it’s important, and how it’s helped me, but I haven’t explained what that means for you. If you’ve finished this article, or read anything else I’ve written for CT, first of all, thank you. It’s hard for me to express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to do this throughout my entire college career. Since I don’t know when I’ll have a steady gig doing it again, I want to take this chance to tell you, the reader, to try it out for yourself.
CT is an amazing publication with a newsroom full of amazing people, and there’s nowhere better to get started with journalism, or to continue it if you’re already interested. It doesn’t matter what you want to write about. If you have an inquiring mind, or if there’s a message you feel the world needs to hear, or if you just care deeply about something, do it with journalism. There’s no better way to talk about what matters.