“I Believe…” An Open Letter to my New Journalism Students

Hi! You might be here because you’ve heard I’m the new journalism adviser at Contra Costa College. If so, welcome, this open letter is for you!

If not, you’re welcome to stay and learn more about me. But you’re not the target audience.

That’s an important thing for journalists: the target audience. At the end of the day, this is a service industry. We serve our readers. We serve the public and the public interest. If you aren’t interested in public service, this may not be the field for you.

I know that because it is my biggest regret as a professional journalist: service wasn’t important enough to me. I will not allow my students to have the same regret.

Because I believe in service. That’s why I do this job, which I’ve talked about before. And ultimately, journalism is about service.

Found on Twitter from a recent protest. If you know the photographer, please let me know.

Any time a powerful person has to answer to the public, it’s because a journalist wrote a story. It’s not always a “professional journalist,” sometimes it’s a government whistleblower, a hacker, a YouTuber or a Twitch streamer. But at its core, journalism is about exposing truths that the public needs and deserves to know. Exposing the truth is an act of journalism. Which is why the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics begins with “Seek Truth and Report It.” We will live and die by those words. That, and the AP Stylebook.

Because I believe that any job worth doing is worth doing well. I believe in clean copy, hard editing, and mercilessly cutting your own work.

I believe in being concise, being concise and being concise. Did I mention being concise? Journalism is about getting to the point as quickly and succinctly as possible. In the words of Rusty Ryan in Ocean’s Eleven: Don’t use seven words when four will do.

I believe movies are the greatest living art form, and I will use way too many movie quotes. It’s OK if you don’t know the reference, just remember that if I say something weird and random, it’s probably a movie quote!

I also believe in having fun. “Work hard, play hard” is a cliché, but it is a RULE in my classroom. You will work your butt off and then you will turn your phone off and go hiking, or play video games, or watch YouTube videos or SOMETHING. ANYTHING. But you will disconnect and get some rest, because this job is hard. You won’t survive without a little downtime. Just let us know when your phone is back on.

Because I also believe in autonomy. This is a student-run publication. My staff is in charge and I will keep us from getting sued or in other trouble. I will cajole. I will hint and suggest. But I will not take charge and I will not interfere.

Which means more work and responsibility for all of you. And as Uncle Ben taught us, with great power comes great responsibility.

I told you there were a lot of movie references.

I believe in challenging every student, because I am going to bring out the best in you. That is my job, as a teacher. I will help you find your interests and make you pursue them. Maybe it won’t be in journalism, and that’s OK. But we’re going to figure out your goals and how to achieve them.

Because I believe this is all about you. I am also in the service industry. I serve my students. I am here as a pit stop on your educational journey. If you grow to become a better journalist than me, then I will be very proud: because I will have succeeded as a teacher. And I will brag about you endlessly.

But you’re gonna have to work pretty hard to become a better journalist than me.

As a teacher, I believe I will make mistakes. But I will acknowledge them, learn from them, and always do better.

Because most of all, I believe in this job and I believe in journalism. This is the job I wanted from the moment I became a journalism major 13 years ago. I have done it before, and it is everything I hoped and feared it would be. It is challenging and time-consuming; but it is fun and so very worth it.

The title of this blog comes from a musical, because I also believe in having a diverse set of interests. I love theater and sports; Marvel movies and documentaries; hiking and playing Xbox. Journalists get to learn about the world through reporting, and you should take advantage of that to find new hobbies.

The song “I Believe” is from The Book of Mormon, written by the guys who created South Park. As someone who was raised Christian (but doesn’t go to church), I was reasonably offended by the content. And yet, I see the value in its humor and enjoyed watching the musical. I’ve seen it twice.

Because I don’t believe we have to agree. You will never have to see the world my way. That’s something Americans have forgotten over the last decade. We need to work together to accomplish things, regardless of what we believe.

You will never have to agree with me. Just understand me, respect me and work with me. Give me your best, and I promise you’ll always get my best in return.

We can do great things, but not alone. Instead, we’ll do them…

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