Sam Landstra—Co-Chief Editor
I’ve had the words for fifty stories written for The Diamond over the past four years, but I don’t have the words for what The Diamond has meant to me.
If you’ve read, listened to, or watched my articles, podcasts, and videos, thank you. If you’ve edited my writing, you’ve made me a better journalist. If you’ve answered my interview questions, you’ve made me a better person.
When I first visited Dordt University as a senior in high school, my dad asked the questions. How many students are in the journalism department? (Not many.) How much do journalists make? (Not much.) What’s the reputation of journalism? (Not as good as it used to be.)
Then, during my freshman year, then-President Donald Trump declared journalism to be “the enemy of the people.” I read the news ticker on CNN as it scrolled across the television in the North Hall lobby.
But while I’ve doubted journalism’s ability to provide me with a stable, publicly acceptable job, I’ve never questioned its importance.
If the journalist’s pen is mightier than the sword, it’s also as empathetic as the heart, if they allow it.
During my campus visit, as I sat in Lee Pitts’ cluttered, book-filled office, my now-professor told stories. He’d ridden alongside generals and army men during the Iraq War, writing about Middle Eastern children affected by the conflict, talked to soldiers who’d lost their legs to IED explosions, and interviewed presidents and senators.
“To me, journalism is keeping the powerful accountable and giving a voice to the voiceless,” Pitts said.
A year later, I told stories as well.
During the spring of 2019, Wal-Mart discontinued its greeter position, leaving thousands jobless, including those with disabilities. So, I drove to Sioux Center’s Wal-Mart, attempting to localize the article.
I chickened out.
Thirty minutes later, though, after loitering at a self-service car wash, I returned to the store. There, I met Harlan Van Maanen, a nine-year Wal-Mart greeter. The elderly, wispy-haired gentleman used a walker and electric scooter to motor around the shopping center, given his cerebral palsy.
While Wal-Mart’s policy changes threatened Van Maanen’s job status, the supervisors at the Sioux Center store accommodated him to the self-checkout.
Van Maanen trusted me to tell his story. Through listening, I empathized with him. Through publishing, I advocated for him. To me, that’s journalism. It’s providing a platform to those who cannot provide one themselves. It’s informing and educating yourself to inform and educate your community.
Over the past four years, the university community has invited me into their family rooms, offices, and dorms, letting me share their stories.
Whether it be Sen. Jeff Taylor permitting me to report on his day-to-day activities at the Iowa Statehouse or Helen Huitink, former owner of Pumpkinland, allowing me to comb through photos of her late-husband, I’m grateful. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating.
When COVID-19 canceled in-person, on-campus activities during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I lost the ability to attend bi-weekly editing sessions in the digital media lab and distribute The Diamond throughout the university. I didn’t lose story, though, commemorating the women’s basketball team’s season through over-the-phone interviews.
On March 12, 2020, the team sat in the bleachers of the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, preparing to play sixth-seeded Reinhardt University. Then, the NAIA commissioner stepped onto the court, announcing the cancellation of the national tournament.
“I won’t forget it,” Bill Harmsen, the team’s coach, said.
Through The Diamond, I won’t forget it either.
Later that year, as me and my classmates returned to campus for the fall semester, I continued to report on COVID-19’s effects on the university. If students were sick, I wanted to write about them. If the community’s response to the pandemic caused others to question their Christianity, I wanted to talk about it.
I’ve loved Dordt University; I’ve held Dordt University accountable. To me, these statements complement each other.
This year, when reports of a stalker, a window peeper, and masked men spread throughout campus, The Diamond didn’t look away. We asked questions, compelled to confront.
That’s the obligation of the journalist—confronting what’s difficult to confront, telling stories to inform a community. Over the past four years, I hope I’ve fulfilled my obligation. I hope we, The Diamond, earned your trust. I know we’ll continue to earn it, asking questions, telling stories.