On Deadline Day two Thursdays ago, I saw Judd leaning all the way back in his chair looking serious. I knew he had just read through the latest version of my team’s script, so I walked up to him.
“What’s the word?” I asked him.
“Better,” he replied tersely.
I wasn’t satisfied. “Any other words?”
“You’ve got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight,” he said.
“What?” I asked. Judd repeated it. I was so confused. Was this a piece of script advice in the form of a riddle or something?
“You wanted some words,” he said. “I gave you some words. It’s a Bruce Cockburn quote.”
I walked away smiling. My sense of humor aspires to be that unapologetically dry.
I’d never heard of Bruce Cockburn before, so of course I looked him up later. I’m surprised my parents hadn’t told me about him because they raised me on old music, and Cockburn was apparently pretty famous in the ‘80s. The song Judd referenced is “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” and my first thought when I heard it was how killer that bass line is. Then I read the lyrics and realized it was extremely applicable to journalism in 2017.
(This is the second post in a row where I’ve taken a love song and put it into the context of journalism. I’m sensing a theme within my theme here.)
Here are a few lines that really stand out to me:
- “You never get to stop and open your eyes / One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall / The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.”
In journalism, “the sky” is whenever your next deadline is. In 4804, “the sky” is 6 p.m. every other Thursday. Both of my team stories have been turned in by 5:45, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean Deadline Day hasn’t been stressful both times.
4804 is so fast-paced that it’s easy to forget to stop and enjoy it. But when you finish a story or get a pitch approved, you’re allowed a few seconds to sit back, chill, and pat yourself and your teammates on the back before you continue running on the Convergence hamster wheel.
It’s also OK to take a second every now and then to just kind of marvel at how awesome the j-school is. I regularly think about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to learn so much about my vocation when I’m not even 20 yet. I wrote a story for the Columbia Missourian this week (pictured above), and I had forgotten how good it feels to write for a newspaper. I’m “dazzled by the beauty of it all” every time I interview a source, snap a photo, take notes during a 4804 lecture, or sit and laugh with my Convergence family at the kitchen table in the Futures Lab.
- “Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime / But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.”
A few weeks ago, the president called journalists “the enemy of the American people.” A little over a year ago, when he was still a candidate, he said he would “open up” libel laws to make it easier to sue us. To him and his most ardent followers, we’re not just enemies — we’re criminals.
We know that’s not true, but we have to prove that to the world by tirelessly producing fair, truthful and detailed work. We have to fight for our credibility in a country that’s losing trust in us. We have to fight for our First Amendment rights while the president attacks them. We have to fight for our jobs in a society that consumes news less and less often. It’s hard and it sometimes feels thankless, but the truth is always worth the fight.
- “You got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”
Judd’s chosen quote is the perfect metaphor for 4804 and journalism in general. It means turning negative situations into positive ones. It means chasing shadowy leads until they finally shed light on real issues. It means beating ideas into pitches and being ready to defend the heck out of them on Pitch Day. It means standing your ground and keeping your head up when the president vilifies you for doing your job right.
My fellow j-schoolers, the faculty, and the persistent reporters I look up to and I are lovers of journalism in a time when it doesn’t always feel safe. But we keep doing what we do because we know there’s always daylight waiting for us to kick it out of the darkness.