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Gems from Ann Curry at the University of Oregon

February 28, 2013

As we all know, Ann Curry is one of my journalism role models (hence the COMS speech about her). This evening, I spent 67 minutes listening to Ann speak at the University of Oregon via a live feed on the Internet (thank God for the 21st century), and every one of those minutes reaffirmed the fact that Ann is one of the best role models an aspiring journalist can have. So, I have selected a few gems from her speech and the Q&A to comment on in this blog post.

Prior to the lecture, I submitted a few questions to the University of Oregon’s journalism school, including “Why does Ann think journalism matters?” The journalism dean asked Ann this question, and she responded: “Without journalism, there would not be freedom. Period.” In her speech, Ann discussed some of the stories she had reported on and giving voices to the voiceless; she also discussed what she thinks could have happened had journalists told certain stories while they were happening, such as if journalists had reported on the Holocaust early, millions of Jews may have been saved. Journalism has the ability to inform the world of things that matter because as Ann said, what people don’t know doesn’t exist; journalism sets a course for a better future.

Ann said: “Pressing, even fighting, for stories that really matter in the world is a fundamental ethic of journalism. Stand up for stories that people should know about, even if the subject matter may not be popular.” In journalism today, there is the tug-of-war between what Ann called sugar and spinach – sugar being fluff stories and spinach being the hard-to-swallow but important stories. There are some people who focus on ratings and care more about that fluff news than the important stories, but then there are people like Ann, who understand that journalism is a service job and who use their positions to help people.

Ann said: “I call on you to let your motivation be your rudder, your safe zone, your inspiration, and if you can, I encourage you to shine a light on dark places where nobody is looking and maybe that light will help awaken the world.” The other day, my suitemate was talking about an engineering event she attended in which the new crop of freshmen just did not seem motivated to do anything, and she was appalled by the lack of motivation or excitement of our generation in general. So this gem is applicable to everything: motivation is what will keep us moving forward (it’s basically in the definition). And it is our responsibility to make sure that journalism and important, meaningful reporting don’t fall by the wayside in our and future generations; it is our responsibility to continue to awaken the world.

Ann said: “If you accept this work and you plunge toward it, you probably won’t see any real proof that your stories are making a difference; you just sort of have to trust that it is.” For people such as myself, doing something in this life that matters, that makes a difference, is important. Doing good is one of my four most important values in life, after all. This quote is vital to keep in mind in journalism and otherwise.

Finally, the journalism dean asked Ann the most important thing she learned at the University of Oregon. Here was her response:

You figure out how to do it; it’s practical stuff. They’re skills that you develop. The one thing that I wish every journalist coming out of the j-school is learning is why we do this. It’s not because you want a job. It’s because you have some sort of passion. The best journalists have some sense of duty, of responsibility, a wish for a life that might contribute something. It’s one that despite everything that might jade you or make you fear that you can’t deal with the struggle, it’s the one that sustains you and helps you move forward.

Being a college journalism student presents uncertainty because journalism changes so rapidly; the journalism I knew in my youth is different from the journalism that will be present when I graduate in two and a half years. Being a college student, period, is stressful and difficult because we’re at that time in our lives when we’re trying to figure out what we want, but we don’t know how to do that, and we have to prioritize and figure out the puzzle pieces of our future, but again, we don’t know how to do that, and meanwhile, time is passing super quickly, but we still don’t know what to do. ANYWAY. Hearing Ann talk about why she does what she does rang significant in my mind; I know as long as I love journalism, I’ll be okay.

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