But what happens when I’m not there, when they’ve graduated and gone into the world of college or professional journalism? I can’t protect and defend them against all of the vitriol that journalists face on a daily basis. This always difficult profession is going to become even more so if President-elect Donald Trump does any of the things he has said he will do to limit First Amendment rights. In the past year, he has mocked and taunted journalists and encouraged, both directly through his speech and indirectly by his failure to condemn, verbal and physical abuse of journalists. In his quest to limit the rights of many disenfranchised groups, it is likely that journalists will be among the first to see his threats become action.
So how can I stand in front of these teenagers and ask them to do something, to possibly devote their life, to work that might make them hated?
Because I believe that if we are strong and courageous enough, journalists will be the ones to hold Trump accountable, to protect the disenfranchised, to tell the stories of all Americans, so that we can listen to and learn from each other. This is the work journalists have always done, and we will be needed in the next few years more than ever.
But I will not send my charges off unprotected. Here are seven ways that they can do this work with confidence and pride.
- Develop a thick skin. If you let yourself be hurt by all that your critics will say about you, you will be destroyed. Learn to let it bounce off. Like developing a callous, this takes time.
- Realize the anger of other people is rarely about you. It might be about the topic in general, it might be about some other journalist, it might be about something that happened to them at their work. Regardless, don’t take it personally.
- Always be kind, calm and professional. Don’t respond with emotion. When interviewing sources, when researching data, when interacting with readers in person or online, always keep your cool.
- Do your job to the very best of your ability. Do your research, listen to people, counter your own biases. Don’t give people an easy reason to criticize you.
- Don’t make assumptions or sweeping judgments about people. When a coach you are interviewing is rude to you, don’t assume all coaches are rude. When a source acts a certain way, don’t assume all people of that demographic are that way. Have a short term memory, don’t hold grudges, always expect the best from people.
- Know where to go for support. Many organizations exist to protect, support and defend journalists. The Society of Professional Journalists is a great place to start. Your own colleagues will be a tremendous source of strength.
- Know in your gut that what you are doing is important. Your work is what will save us all.
Like Glinda the Good Witch, I leave my students with something else: My kiss will always be on their foreheads, and in their future crises of the soul, I hope they will know how powerful that is. That mark holds the power of every journalist, every defender of free speech, every human being who knows that in the end, the truth is what will set us free.