Step away from cynicism

March 30, 2015 01:30

By Lydia Timmins, RTDNA Contributor

The transition from newsroom to classroom is more than just location. It’s also a state of mind.
I have to buy into the idea that college has worth. That you can’t just go right to work and do it right. That you need training of some kind to learn more than the skills--to learn the craft.

I have had to move from (somewhat) cynical and jaded journalist to (somewhat) idealistic professor. To go from believing I could make the world better through the stories I wrote and reported, to believing I could make journalism better through training students to do it right.
So, how does that happen? It starts with taking a big step away from cynicism. And that can be a hard thing to do, if you have spent years covering politics or the police beat. Journalists develop that layer of protection, nothing is a surprise as long as you don’t expect officials (or whoever) to do the right thing. If you expect that sooner or later, the high and mighty will trip and fall. And you’ll be right there to report it.
It turns out that most people are not bad! That there’s a whole world full of non-scheming, moral citizens who aren’t trying to cheat, lie or steal. Who knew? In journalism, we focus on the people who aren’t doing the right thing--because journalism is about telling the public what’s wrong. Journalism is about watching the government and other official people to make sure they are following the laws, and calling them out when they aren’t. But really, those people are a small part of the population. The public--who journalists ostensibly serve--are OK. And that’s where the focus of a journalist turned professor has to lie.
I see these students, these children on the brink of adulthood, anxious to get out and do a job. Anxious to learn how to do it right, and do it well. The majority want to do the right thing--they just have to be taught. They aren’t growing up reading the newspaper or watching the news. They really have no idea how journalists do their jobs, much less do the job right. That’s where I come in. To infuse them with excitement for the impact they could make, the stories they could tell--and teach them how that happens.
Now before you dive into the comments to make fun of my rose-colored glasses, yes I know that not every student is like that. But if educators can grab the ones who want to make a difference, that benefits the profession, the student and society. Because I believe that--yes I have turned the corner to idealistic professor. The cynicism hasn’t vanished, it’s just not as important as it once was.
Lydia R. Timmins is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware.