Grasping at Shadows

I shadowed at the local newspaper for one afternoon when I was in high school. I went into their office completely overdressed. If it had been a big city publication I would have been fine, but there, everyone was in pants and comfortable shoes. I was given a tour of the office and met with some of the employees. It was a great start.

Later, we went on scene to cover an event. A time capsule was being put in at the school for the deaf and blind. It was a great event and I watched many interesting people tell their stories. I followed the journalist around like a puppy, soaking in as much as I could and asking questions whenever one popped into my mind. It was freezing out and my legs and arms were out to be bitten at by the weather. They hadn’t explained to me we would be leaving the office.

I believe it was before the event had ended and we were back at the computer writing the article that would come out the next day. I gave my input on some wording and reminded her of some small details. I was happy to see a finished article had some of my suggestions in it. It was going well.

At one point I was sitting alone in the open layout office when some of the employees came over to me. A fight had broken out at my school a day or two before and it was the talk among the town. One of the employees asked me if I knew anything about the fight. I told him I wasn’t there myself but I knew some people who were. They continued to talk about it in front of me.

One mentioned wondering if there were any photos or anything and I mentioned that I had a friend who had seen a video of it from someone else. Suddenly I wasn’t just some kid interested in journalism. I was a source. They asked me to please get the video. They asked me to tell them what I knew. It felt wrong to say anything when I hadn’t witnessed the event myself. They seemed to be grasping at straws. I explained that I didn’t know much and that I wasn’t sure I could get to the video.

That evening I walked out of their offices feeling accomplished. I was excited about the article and sharing the important stories from the time capsule event. However, I also walked out feeling disheartened. I was given the basic information anyone is given on a newspaper room tour. It was a day at the office. Yet, I was also not given any interest by most of the employees. I was young, enthusiastic, and ready to help. I would have run around the office looking for tasks or loved to talk to more of the employees.

Instead, I was given a cold shoulder except by those who were asked to talk to me that day. I wasn’t asked if I saw a future with them or why news writing was important to me. They attempted to use me for small-town gossip, to make a quick column about a fight at the high school, to write unimportant information and possibly harm the future of two students who made a dumb decision one day.

This is one reason journalism is broken. There are so many students who look up to anchors and news writers. There are so many people studying journalism and trying to make a difference, but they are shoved out immediately. Established writers are looking for more to write. They are looking to get help and not give compensation.

Dear journalists, if a kid is on a tour, a student is shadowing, or an intern is present, please, give them advice, give them credit, and welcome them in.

In a world where journalists claim their work is needed, it’s time to welcome those learning and not make them feel unwelcomed or small. It’s time to pay them for their work and include them in yours. If journalism is so important, welcome the talent don’t dismiss it because they might have your job one day.

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