A weekly column by Jonathon S. Platt
Journalism was neither a popular nor healthy career choice in 2014.
Over the year, the Islamic State beheading of captured journalists gained international attention and the Committee to Protect Journalists reported a total of 61 reporters died in the line of duty. Along with this, police tear-gassed and arrested dozens of professional and citizen journalists in the midst of rioting protesters, like in St. Louis, for refusing to stop coverage of the stories before them.
Despite all of this, I’ve known journalism was my calling for a few years now. I know that I was born to write for newsprint. I mean, yes, I watched in horror as these incidents unfolded on front pages and television screen, but I truly felt that nothing would keep me from pursuing a career in print publication.
That is, until Jan. 7 when radical extremists raided the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, and murdered nine journalists for their words and artwork.
The game changed.
Typically, a journalist goes out into the world – sometimes putting herself or himself in danger, but understanding that this is necessary – and then returns to the safety of a newsroom to partake in the sacred crafts of writing and editing.
To us, the newsroom is safe. Or it’s supposed to be.
Seeing the bloody floors and the papers strewn through the hallways of Charlie Hebdo brought gravity into my reality. There are consequences to words, just ask Phil Robertson, the Dixie Chicks or Anthony Weiner.
What would happen if I inadvertently wrote something offensive, or quoted a source who attacks a subgroup of culture? Will my work put my desk mates in danger?
Being cussed at, spit on and arrested are things journalists must often embrace to do their job properly. Some are required to give their life while working a beat, but never does one think that the danger will enter where the work is done.
I’ve had sniper rifles pointed at me from the top of a police station. I’ve been in the middle of protest that got out of hand. But I know I’m in the right career because I thrive on this adrenaline. I can handle impersonal slander and faceless hate.
But in the wake of weeks following Charlie Hebdo, I’ve been asking myself, “How much power do my words have? And is that too much for me to wield?”
And then professors started pointing to the necessity of this career. Dr. Sara Stone in my media law class and Dr. Brad Owens in my international communication course have spent the last week and a half speaking on the value of free speech. Journalists are necessary because we are the forerunners of that right.
We’re a dedicated bunch. We’re some of the first on the scene, generally the closest to the front lines and then the ones who have to tell everyone at home about what awful – or wonderful – things we saw and heard.
It’s a tough profession, but I’m dedicated to it because it’s one of the most important. Journalists write the first draft of history.
At least, that’s how I see it.
Jonathon S. Platt is a junior journalism major from Kilgore. He is the news editor and a weekly columnist for the Lariat.He also authors the Lariat blog “From the Wire.” Follow him on Twitter @JonSPlatt.