Farewell, so long: On being a journalist

Staff Writer—Zac VanderLey

On May 7, 2020, Lee Pitts sent me an email, telling me a professor or student thought I’d be a good fit at The Diamond. He asked me to join. I responded with jubilation and offered my thought on journalism: “I believe at the essence of journalism is eliciting an emotional response in the readers.” 

There are many problems with this definition of journalism, and even though I attempted to impress Pitts through that sentence, I’m glad he didn’t hold my misplaced passion against me.

What I thought was good journalism was, in reality, consumerist journalism. It was stories that made people stand up out of their seat and yell, either positively or negatively. Without knowing it, contemporary journalism’s click-bait titles and agenda-driven reporting had warped my mind into thinking that good storytelling included the antithesis to real, professional journalism: melodrama and controversy. 

But stories have their own emotion. It’s up to the reporter to uncover that emotion through quality questions, rather than create it themselves. 

I did not understand journalism until I practiced it. We cannot offer informed opinions on any issue unless we take the time to become informed through curious questioning and attentive listening. 

I learned this truth time and time again as I wrote stories about churches, the Equality Act, the capitol insurrection, and the Dordt Gaming Guild. Often, what I heard from others about the story before I reported on it proved to be just one piece in a 1000-piece, multi-layered puzzle.

Journalism is nuanced truth revealed through story. ‘Show don’t tell’ proves king yet again. Pitts likes to tell his journalism students to “write a story on the immigrant, not on immigration.” 

Truly, these complex issues we argue about are more nuanced than the black and white responses provided by culture. Humans are too complex to be understood through anything other than story. To be clear, I believe objective truth still exists; it just takes stories to grow closer to that truth.

To those who read my stories, thank you, and I hope you learned along with me. To those who talked to me or others about my articles, thank you. You participated in the redemptive act of conversation that our world desperately needs to relearn. 

And to those who have an itch to discern fact from fiction, come and take my spot in The Diamond and continue to transform an integral part of Christian life.

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