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Here's why I - and you - need journalism

There are many reasons I shouldn’t be a journalist.

That was my thought in 10th-grade English class. On that particular day, my teacher was recruiting students to register for the journalism class she was teaching the next year.

I tapped my pen anxiously against my notebook as she told us how great “deadline-oriented” and “detail-driven” would look in a college application essay.

Tap, tap, tap. My mind spun with reasons I shouldn’t be a journalist:

1. I’m a 5-foot-1-inch female whose stare and vocal cadence does nothing to instill fear in the hearts of people.

2. Talking to people does everything to instill fear in my own heart.

3. Even if I was a beacon of fear installation, I couldn’t do it because I hate upsetting people.

After all, that’s what real journalists do, according to my all-knowing 16-year-old brain: fearlessly strike down the evil of the world with a pen as their sword.

Satisfied, I put my pen down. There would be other jobs, other careers that involved stories and didn’t involve fear.

Yet four years later, I found myself forgetting all these reasons as the greater fear of never finding a job strongly influenced my decision to try out the student newspaper.

It was one of the few times fear led me in the best direction.

I consider myself privileged that people let me listen and write their stories. To the surprise of my former assumptions, my pen got to be a paintbrush rather than a sword. I was amazed at all the scenes I could paint, from the University of Portland alum who lost her best friend in the Haiti earthquake to the Cornelius student who told me about her battle and triumph over anxiety.

However, the victory I found in uniting my love of words with a tangible career doesn’t always outshine the reasons I initially drafted about why I shouldn’t be a journalist.

A few weeks ago, I had to make some tough phone calls. I knew my sources wouldn’t want to answer my questions. I knew they were probably going to be irked I was calling to fact-check for the fourth time. I knew my story could make them upset. And I knew I’d have to listen to my fear emanate from the black box I held propped against my ear, my fingers poking nervously at the keys as I remembered all the reasons I shouldn’t be a journalist. Tap, tap, tap.

Despite wanting to bolt from my desk or burst into hysterical laughter from the anxiety pounding in my chest, I made the calls. They weren’t smooth. I doubt I instilled fear in anyone’s heart except my own. But I did the thing every survival instinct in my body told me not to do: I asked difficult questions until I got hard answers.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why that’s something to be scared of. Why should anyone be afraid of asking for the truth? Why should anyone feel their stature, vocal cadence or height prohibits them from challenging an idea, whether that’s a source’s or our own.

One of the purposes of journalism is to allow two opposing opinions to exist in one place. We aren’t going to make the world better if we allow laws, governments or corporations to exist unquestioned. We aren’t going to live a wholesome life if we don’t listen to an idea different from our own. And we aren’t going to become better people if we don’t believe our voices — regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or appearance — are important enough to be heard.

That’s why I need journalism. And that’s why you need it, too.

Kate Stringer, a 2014 University of Portland graduate, is working for the News-Times this summer as part of the University of Oregon’s Snowden Internship Program.



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