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All Journalists Started Somewhere

Susan Campbell, Distinguished Lecturer

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Susan Campbell is one of the faculty advisors of the Charger Bulletin.

 

There were plenty more talented student journalists at my little southwest Missouri college, but no one wanted a career in journalism more.

A few years previously, I’d sat cross-legged in the floor the summer of 1974 watching, gavel to gavel, the Watergate hearings.

Everyone came away from that event with something different. My mother will go to her grave believing Pres. Nixon was framed. I will go to my grave marveling that a free and independent press rooted out corruption at the highest level of government. Reporters did that, along with a phalanx of hungry attorneys and elected officials who took their Constitution seriously. I was hooked, and from that summer on I wrote for every school paper that would have me.

And here I was, about to enter college journalism, which would prepare me to go out and practice my craft in the real world. But first I had to get through school.

My newspaper advisor was a man I thought ancient (he was the same age I am now). He wore sharp suits, wide ties, a bemused smile, and there floated about him a faint smell of vomit.

I may have made up that vomit part.

He never called me anything but “Campbell,” and he pushed and cajoled and shouted. He slammed his flat hand down on the desk when we goofed up – things were different then – until I and my fellows learned AP style rules, and then we learned to break those rules. I spent late nights in the newsroom (really just a classroom we commandeered) and then stumbled to my morning classes.

We put out an award-winning college paper from that tiny little place. We met deadlines, argued over headlines, battled with the administration, and paved our way(s) into careers in journalism, law, political science, fund-raising. We learned to respect the Constitution, and not just the First Amendment. We learned teamwork, and we learned that respect of power is not a fait accompli, but something that must be earned.

Journalism has been good to me. Journalism has been good to you, too. Every day, tireless ink-stained hacks and their more glamorous broadcast brothers and sisters uncover something that people in power don’t want uncovered, something you need to know. They hold people accountable. They uncover information so that you can make good decisions about your lives – from what movie to see to which candidate deserves watching. They serve, as corny as it sounds, as your watchdogs.

And they all started somewhere. So we must protect our student newsrooms, which still, no matter the changes in the communications market or the delivery systems of news, serve as incubators for the next generation. Now, more than ever, we need journalists-in-training.

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All Journalists Started Somewhere