It’s always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don’t make changes, don’t risk disapproval, don’t upset your syndics. It’s always easiest to let yourself be governed. [But] there’s a point, around age twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities. Those who build walls are their own prisoners. … I’m going to go unbuild walls.”Ursula K. Le Guin
Well, this is it guys. My 232nd and last article for The City Voice. I know it’s cliche to say time flies when you’re having fun, but wow has it been a fast four years. It seems like only yesterday I was a 9th grader sitting down with a well-used Chromebook, borrowed from Mr. Thane’s class cart, to register cityhighmiddlenewspaper.wordpress.com and debate with my friends what the first post should be.
Between then and now I’ve learned a lot, about journalism and about life, as you do in high school. The high school part you’ll have to figure out for yourself, I’m pretty sure anything I have to say is out of date by now, but on journalism I can, perhaps, offer some advice, or at least mistakes not to make.
We live in a changing world, one journalists of 50 or even 20 years ago probably wouldn’t recognize. Where journalism once existed to pool resources in pursuit of scarce information, serving a world that needed more information than it had, the modern world has the opposite problem. From YouTube to social media to the internet at large, we have too much information. So much, in fact, that just sorting through it all is a challenge.
As David Roberts over at Vox wisely said, “The great question of our age is simply, [WTH]? WTH isn’t asking after what happened. It’s easy to find out what happened these days. Rather, it’s pointing at what happened and asking, well … WTH?”
He’s got a point. From Elon Musk’s at-first laughable, suddenly real attempt to buy Twitter, to the internet’s unlikely preservation of the mating call of an extinct bird, to Mark Zuckerberg risking billions on a misunderstood 90s sci-fi reference, a lot of today’s news seems to beg the question: WTH? But perhaps a more pressing question for us, the high school journalists of 2022, is, what, exactly, do we do?
We don’t exist to spread the news of City High Middle School to you, or to the world, because a quick hashtag search on Instagram can probably give you a better, faster, and more accurate summary of day to day school life than we can. Nor are we here purely to report on the news of the world, although that is important, because the New York Times can certainly do that better than we can. So what are we here for?
To be a journalist, especially a high school one, where expectations are next to none, is to have the freedom to tell stories. Choosing what those stories should be is a great responsibility, one we owe to all our readers, and the best ones are never found by thinking rigidly, or by accepting conventional wisdom. So I say it’s the journalist’s task to unbuild walls, to get people talking who never expected to talk, and ask questions no one expected to be asked.
Our job is to be professionally curious, to take backstreets and open interesting doors, to wonder why things are the way they are. And, most importantly, it’s our calling to make a virtue of peculiarities, our own and others’. To find the parts of life that are unexpected, inexplicable, even alien, and yes always new and noteworthy, and follow them wherever they lead. We owe it to ourselves to ask, simply, “WTH?” whenever life prompts it, because it’s behind those kinds of questions that we find the stories, the truths, that are most important.
I’ll let you in on a secret. When we started all this, four long, short, years ago, we had no idea what we were doing. Absolutely none. Zero. I had to Google “how to write a headline” before writing my first articles, because I had barely any idea what journalism was, let alone how to do it.
And yet, between then and now, we’ve competed nationally against high school papers with professional journalists as advisers and decades of conventional wisdom, tradition, and former student mentors at their backs. And we’ve won.
So how did we do it? By asking the interesting questions. By unbuilding walls and not limiting ourselves to what we thought was normal, or even what we thought we were capable of. By not being afraid to fail, and failing, more than once. And from all that, what we, what I, learned was this: nobody is born good at anything. We’re all just falling with style. Try to have a little fun along the way.