Sam Hungerford: Senior Column

In my very first week of my very first semester of my very first year at Allegheny, I walked with false confidence into my very first general meeting for The Campus newspaper. I took what I thought would be the easiest story covering the Year of Social Change. I ended up with a terrible article about the year’s first speaker, whom I was terrified to talk to since my subject was obviously much smarter, more accomplished and downright cooler than 18-year-old me.

My embarrassment over the article ran deep, and I cringe at the thought that it still exists in print somewhere, but nonetheless I was hooked. I’d always known I wanted to be a writer, but exactly what that would mean for me was still taking shape. Too short of an attention span for novels, not good enough with wordplay for poetry, too few strong opinions for essays. I was stuck.

But the idea of journalism – that with the title of “journalist” I could call anyone, it seemed, in the world and talk to them; that I could have an impact on my community, and that I could have a voice; that I could spend the rest of my life learning new things, satisfying my curiosity about different people, places and events. That was amazing to me.

After five years of studying journalism, my view of the field has been complicated. It turns out (as it turns out with many things) that the profession resides in an undefined grey area, hosting a platform from which all voices speak, and all opposing voices can speak back, for better or for worse. The conservative, the liberal, the true, the not so true, the mistakes, the triumphs are all recorded in the news. Giants like the New York Times can fail while the independent blogger can succeed, and their work can have myriad unforeseen consequences.

To be a journalist, you have to learn to be hated as often as you are praised, and understand that you will meet many more journalists who are models for what not to do than what to do. You will end up writing about a lot of things you don’t care about while you wait to write something that’s meaningful. You will work odd hours for low wages, and will spend a lot of time freebasing black coffee and talking about the foreboding “state of the media.”

There were many times when I considered abandoning this career path for a less demanding and uncertain one. During my 10 month stint as a reporter in D.C. for a small newspaper, I almost gave up entirely under the enormity and unclear purpose of my job. Yet even though the industry is one royal mess and its future is uncertain, I find that there are reasons enough for me to hold on to my original vision of the field.

I believe that its power to educate and spread knowledge about events, both good and bad, is immeasurably valuable. Knowing what’s happening in the world around you can help strengthen each individual’s membership in local and global communities, promoting awareness and bringing people together. People need news. We are naturally curious about one another. We want to know what’s happening in each other’s lives, neighborhoods and countries. And I think that there is worthwhile value in fulfilling that demand.

I also believe that people deserve to know what is happening in their communities and governments from sources that are (ideally) not affiliated with those organizations. As Thomas Jefferson said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Just as importantly, I have found enormous respect for and friendship with the community of journalists that I have met, none more so than those at The Campus newspaper.

I’ve seen the paper grow and change under three different academic advisers, an uncountable number of writers, editors and others who make the paper possible, and four different editors-in-chief, not including myself. Our faces change and the news stories change, the challenges we face are different, yet in my time here the heart of newspaper had remained the same, and I am thankful for this. It has been such a pleasure watching multiple years of students come into the paper and mature as writers and as people, both before and after graduation.

Every week I come into the office, the staff and I complete a herculean task, putting together a paper despite having other club, job and school commitments. This experience binds us together in a way that I could not have imagined walking into that meeting my first year. Above all my other experiences in and out of college life, I can honestly say that being the editor of The Campus newspaper has confirmed the trajectory of my career, and I am profoundly grateful to everyone who has been a part of this newspaper and my life here.