I want to first congratulate you students on your (Mark of Excellence) awards and the outstanding faculty and advisers who are being honored for their work. I also welcome all journalist students and faculty who are here today. I admire you all for having chosen this profession.
You may have gone into this field for various reasons: adventure, service, personal enjoyment, perhaps fame and prestige...
I remember when entered college in 1994, I had no idea what to major in. At first I went into premedicine, but I didnt do very well on my first science course, so I switched to undecided. I thought about psychology, and my adviser, who was a philosophy professor, encouraged me to go into his field. Then a friend invited me to take part in the campus television program, and I soon decided that journalism seemed to be the best of all worlds for me: It was a field in which a person could meet many new people, tell their stories, learn something new almost on a regular basis, transfer that knowledge to others, have adventures, and get paid for it. I felt that this profession would allow me to serve both myself and others.
A college professor at that time told me one of the main responsibilities of a journalist is to be a surrogate for the people. Indeed, you as journalists have the power to bring information through audio, video and words to people who cannot be where you are, when you are, whether they are in your own town or on the other side of the world. You are their eyes and ears. You are their researcher and analyst. You are gathering the information that you can, and presenting it to them, to help them reach their own conclusions about a variety of issues of interest and importance.
This is a huge responsibility, and there are many journalists out there more qualified and experienced than I who could advise you how to handle it well.
Here are a few lessons I learned over the past few years that can be applied anywhere in the world:
Try to learn how to use more than one medium. If you know how to prepare TV, radio and print reports, you can be much more versatile than if you only know one.
Try to learn the different steps to producing and reporting a story in each medium. For example, if you are in TV, learn not only how to report but also how to shoot and edit, as I believe many of you students have learned.
Value your journalism experiences anywhere in the world you may be. I admit when I started out in local news in my hometown of Fargo several years ago, I was a little disappointed. I had wanted to report overseas on international stories, not do live shots in freezing cold winter blizzards! But I soon realized that many treasures could be found in local reporting. My colleagues at my TV station had so much to teach me, if I would only listen and try to learn from them. Its in local news, especially the small markets, that we journalists can get handson experience in so many aspects of our profession. And while we report on local issues that matter to our communities, we can also make international or national stories local. When you watch or read the international or national news, keep thinking what local angles those stories might have, and how they impact your local communities.
If you want to report abroad and eventually get the chance to, try to mix in with the local culture as much as possible and to learn the local language. You can of course work through a translator, but it is never the same as speaking directly with the people, and they will feel more comfortable around you.
In certain countries, you may have to learn how to balance pressures by the host government, your boss, and your own conscience to do your job. This balance can sometimes be hard to strike, and in the process, there may be risks involved. (For example, even though you might believe youre observing the law, in some countries, certain authorities consider themselves above the law.)
Of course, freedom of the press is not absolute anywhere. It is under threat in many parts of world and sometimes even here.
According to the press rights group Reporters without Borders, in 2008, out of 173 countries, in terms of press freedom, the US was ranked 36th domestically, and 119th outside the country.
Iran was 166th. (With 31 journalists and bloggers in prison today, Iran is now the biggest jail for journalists around the world.) As RWB says, Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai or in Iran (166th), Uzbekistan (162nd) and Zimbabwe (151st) is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment.
So cherish the press freedom[RS1] you have. Do not take it for granted. In many places in the world you would be imprisoned, or worse, for reporting in independent ways about certain issues. Some governments and authorities dont want you to share the stories of some individuals or groups in their societies. They might want only their own perspectives told and those of others either in a limited way or not at all.
WHEREVER YOU ARE IN THE WORLD, TRY TO TELL THE STORIES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE:
Everyone has a story to tell from taxi drivers to university students, from artists to physicians.
Try to have genuine interest in the people you interview and meet. Often times we look at interviewees as soundbites instead of as people. If we really listen and care, we will get the better soundbites in the end!
We must also try to be fair to our interviewees and think about how wed like to be treated if we were in their place.
I recall one instance when I was reporting several years ago here in the US a story about religion, and I cut in half the soundbite of one pastor I had interviewed, just because it fit my story better that way. When she saw the story, she became upset. I became upset that she was upset. But then I realized she was right. I had shown only half the point she was trying to make, and by doing so, had misrepresented her ideas.
FINALLY, DONT FORGET TO ENJOY YOUR PROFESSION!
Journalists get to learn, learn, learn and then tell everyone about it. I hope you can keep your sense of curiosity, your sense of wonder at the world. Journalists can be trained to report and write well, but without curiosity and wonder and passion well, youre just writing articles, not real stories.
Never in our history have we needed good journalists more than now. In this day of declining readership and viewership, and practicallyeveryoneonearth blogging, more than ever we need to provide reporting: the art of verification. Do not lose heart when you hear about dying newspapers and failing TV stationswe are in an age of reinvention, and journalism will survive because it is so needed.
As you go forward, you might have to make sacrifices along the way, but you can also find this noble profession very rewarding. I hope you all enjoy your journeys.