Journalist Existentialism

Lydia Jayaputra—Staff Writer

I read through an article of mine the other day and thought, “My goodness, who cares? Who cares about any of this?”

The article was my first ever for The Diamond, so my apathy, to be fair, may have been driven by my inexperienced writing. My apathy was not from my subject—I loved the people I reported on and believed they deserved a well-written article. But, for whatever reason, rereading the article gave me a pessimism about journalism in general. If I didn’t care, why would anyone else? It’s Dordt. It’s a small university. Did its people really need a newspaper?

I looked through other articles in The Diamond for inspiration. There were articles about new professors, sports teams, enrollment and COVID-19 statistics. Also, there were opinions about COVID-19 and opinions about other article’s opinions

My fellow staff members on The Diamond care about these topics. Other people care about them too, or else they wouldn’t read the newspaper. I’ve been on both sides. I’ve cared enough to read the newspaper, and I’ve cared enough to write for it. So why did I find myself apathetic? And more importantly, how could I stop this feeling?

The paper’s editors often say that if you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

This brings us to Lee Pitts, a journalism professor at Dordt and faculty advisor to The Diamond. He’s been involved in the newsgathering industry since 2001 and is a true professional of the business. He’s also a great guy because he supplies the writers with free pizza at our budget meetings. If anyone could help with my journalist’s existentialism, it would be him.

“Why do newspapers matter?” I asked him.

“If we want to have a fully functioning community,” Pitts said, “people in that community need to be informed about what’s going on with their neighbors, and they need to notice things that are broken that need to be fixed.” 

That is, The Diamond is Dordt University’s doctor’s visit. It’s the university’s way of staying healthy. Though the campus’ education students are familiar with their world, for example, and the engineering students relate to their peers in their own bubble, the two spheres don’t always interact with each other. The Diamond works against this. It works against “Dordt illiteracy,” as Pitts puts it. 

But, 

for all the good that journalism does in a community, the industry has its shortcomings as well. The agreement between the journalist and the reader is a “two-way street,” according to Pitts, where readers favor biased, self-serving articles instead of well-informed, fair journalism.

“They are essentially choosing their sugar over their broccoli,” Pitts said. “The media responds by giving them what they want.”  

And, within this “vicious media cycle,” Pitts said, “the responsibility is on [the reader] to seek out and support good journalism.” 

Likewise, the journalist is responsible for the betterment of their community. For Pitts, his journalism career wasn’t a money maker—it was an essential for his neighbors far and wide. 

I still felt apathetic.

Later that night, following the interview, my computer received an email from a past source for an article. In the email, 

the interviewees thanked me for my article: “We so appreciate your time and creative expression,” they said. “Thank you and God continue with you in it all.”

Wow, my article mattered to someone, I thought. Sure, it was the people I interviewed. Still, It made them happy. It gave them joy. They felt represented at Dordt. 

The email squashed my apathy. I read it over again. While Pitts argued on behalf of journalism for thirty minutes to no avail, my interviewees gave me 61 words of praise and I got all excited again. I was wrong when I thought knowledge would kill my apathy, it was validation that did it.

My motives notwithstanding, there are some good points to be taken here. While I think journalism is a flawed way for communities to stay healthy, I also think it is the most effective and realistic way for communities to stay healthy. I would prefer we all chill by a huge campfire and take turns sharing our vulnerabilities, but let’s get real. Journalism, when done right, is the next best way to know who is hurting and help them.

Journalism is not always done right, but what did you expect? It is run by flawed humans who write about other flawed humans. These articles are then read by—you guessed it—flawed humans. The opportunities for failure are everywhere. And even if every newspaper followed Pitts’ advice, flaws would still exist. Still, these flaws are a horrible reason to abandon journalism altogether because journalism serves an essential purpose to the community: information about how to love your neighbor.

As Pitts said, the “vicious media cycle” is caused by both the journalist and the reader, which means the responsibility to end such a cycle belongs to both. 

This information may not motivate you to read good journalism. I get it. My own search for information didn’t motivate me either. So, as a writer, let me help motivate you in the same way I was motivated: Thank you. Thanks for reading this weird experiment of an article. Thanks for reading my hard work. Thanks for reading The Diamond. Thanks for reading about Dordt and about the world, because, in Christian terms, all those articles are about your neighbor. By reading about your neighbor, you’ve given yourself more power to help them. I appreciate it. We appreciate it.

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