This is my 100th article for The Mustang. Of the 436 stories published on this website since 2014, I have now officially written roughly a quarter of them. This is a pretty cool thing to think about and I enjoy working as a journalist immensely. Since journalism has currently been a bit of a hot topic lately, with our President fearfully declaring that any news outlets reporting negative news about his presidency are “fake” and to commemorate my 100th article, I’ve decided to use this opportunity to tell the story of how and why I started writing and what I enjoy about the field of journalism.
It’s been an odd journey, to be honest. If you’d have told me in my senior year of high school that in a few years time I’d be working as a professional journalist and serving as the editor for my college paper, I’d have thought you were crazy. The truth is, I didn’t want to be a writer. No, growing up I wanted to be a sketch artist for a living. I’m pretty good at it too, having had over two decades of practice. Even in school, teachers would complain to my parents that I wouldn’t do my school work because I was too busy sketching. It’s honestly a wonder I even got into college now that I think about it.
So why am I a writer now? While, I’d usually done well in Language Arts and English classes back in high school, my heart was set on being an artist. I decided after graduation that I wouldn’t go to college, and instead I’d take my portfolio and try to make it as a freelance artist. About a year later I was working as an Americorps intern for the county and one of my first tasks was to create a flier for a community event. This was the first and last time I worked as a paid artist. The event organizers rejected my design, which was a partial factor, but I also noticed that it just wasn’t fun to work on. My heart wasn’t in it. So at that point, I decided to keep my art strictly as a hobby, putting my ambitions to rest.
A few years passed, and I realized that sooner or later I’d probably have to consider college, at least if I wanted a job where I could do something creative for a living. The problem was, I had no idea what I’d study. I’d vetoed getting an associates in Graphic Design or a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, so what would I do?
The answer came in the form of a terrible Johnny Depp movie- 2011’s The Rum Diary. My Mustang Review of the movie: it sucks. It’s a cluttered mess of a script, and Johnny Depp plays his usual standard wacky Johnny Depp character. However, I found inspiration in this movie. Depp allegedly plays the infamous Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in the film, despite the movie being an adaptation of a novel Thompson wrote instead of being based on actual events like the movie tries to pass itself off as…. but I’m getting off topic. The point is, I found Thompson fascinating. He was a writer for Rolling Stone throughout the 1970’s, but more than that, he was essentially a professional troublemaker. His writing style was essentially a Twitter feed several decades before Twitter was even founded. His works document his misadventures involving the Hell’s Angels, the 1972 Presidential campaign, and most famously, the Las Vegas strip. While truthfully Thompson was never a good objective reporter, he was essentially paid to go places and write about whatever he was doing or what was on his mind. I’d decided that this was for me.
I’ve written about the incident that finally sent me over the edge and into higher learning in a past editorial; long story short, I had a crappy job that inspired me to enroll in college and I soon wrote about the experience in an English 101 class. In that personal narrative assignment, I adopted the personae of a hard-boiled journalist while giving my account of a particularly bad day. It was that assignment that eventually led to my teacher recommending that I study English. There’s something fun about taking real events and documenting them in a creative way. Creative non-fiction is the term for it. I practiced this style in my article about Sparky’s Burgers earlier this month. That simple article about a group of college students eating cheeseburgers was widely shared around the university and received plenty of positive feedback simply because it was fun to read.
However, after having practiced professional writing and learning a bit more, the thing that attracts me most to journalism is the power that the free press wields, a power that I think a lot of people take for granted. Being a journalist is a big responsibility, because in many ways, journalists have shaped the world. For example, Benjamin Franklin used his publication, The Pennsylvania Gazette, to help influence the colonists in the lead up to the American Revolution, while Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposing Richard Nixon’s role in the Watergate break-in. Journalists usually take instrumental roles in shaping culture and history, because they are the ones who document it and inform the rest of the world. It’s not just in politics either. When you read or watch something about music, movies, television, sports or fashion, it’s usually in presented in a form of journalism.
Journalists are also responsible for exposing injustices that would be otherwise be unknown to the average person. Aside from Watergate, journalists were also responsible for exposing Catholic Priests abusing children in 2005, investigating and disproving much of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt in 1953, and exposing NSA surveillance on American people in 2013. While there are of course sensationalist journalists out there, most try to simply present the public with facts and then give them the opportunity to make judgements for themselves. This is how change comes about. The power to influence the public, expose injustice, and create change is why Donald Trump wants people to fear and mistrust the free press so badly.
In conclusion, I enjoy being a journalist because it both provides a creative outlet when I write but it’s also the power to influence people and create change. While The Mustang doesn’t necessarily shake down the establishment, it does provide a spotlight on students and organizations that would otherwise remain unseen, as well as provide a direct link for departments and administrators to reach out to the student body. It may not be exposing the Watergate scandal, but our publication helps our readers in it’s own way.
That’s really all I have for now. Thank you for reading the articles that we put out. Our readership has grown quite a bit in the past few months, which really means a lot. In fact, I’m actually starting to feel good about leaving my career as an artist behind. (haha)
Be sure to check out the other articles we have up also. We’ve recently started a new weekly column with Student Health Services, in which they will be discussing issues students and young people may face and offering advice.
Once agin, thank you for reading. See you next month!