I had always dreamed of having my name in print. Yet I wanted to be the one writing, not the one who was written about.
I was only 12 years old when when a reporter showed up on my doorstep in the midst of a family tragedy. I was shocked that an individual could display such insensitivity when my family was struggling to cope with an incident that could potentially change our lives.
Yet, there he stood eagerly awaiting my arrival. He wanted to question me about what had unfolded just days before, in the back seat of a car when I realized my life was in the hands of a drunk driver. According to some, I had averted tragedy by calling 911. But if you asked me at the time, I simply caused chaos by involving individuals outside of my family.
I could not tell you what the reporter’s name was, what he looked like or what newspaper he was working for, simply because I do not remember. What I do remember is the hatred I felt for that reporter. My 12-year-old self knew that hate was a strong word from countless classroom discussions and scoldings from parents, yet in that moment, the swelling in my chest could only be described as pure detestation.
My grandmother quickly and calmly whisked me away from the front door and into the kitchen, where I could quietly eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and pretend the details of my family’s personal life were not being published across the country.
I had always wanted to be a writer, but at that point in time, my idealized vision of the world of journalism was shattered.
I thought the reporter on my doorstep was there to expose my identity. I thought that he would relentlessly pound on the front door until I came outside and gave him the information he was so desperately seeking.
The truth of the matter was the reporter stood on my doorstep in search of some honest answers, and at the gentle request of my grandfather, he got into his car and drove away.
My first encounter with what I thought was journalism unfortunately skewed my opinion of the field I am still coming to know and will inherently love. I used to grimace at bold-faced headlines and shocking exposés with the impression that journalists were merely tearing lives apart and making spectacles out of unfortunate events.
It wasn’t until I looked back years later and read what was written about the experience that changed my family dynamic, and my life as a whole, that I completely changed my opinion. It wasn’t until I read these articles congested with misinformation and potent comments that I realized why journalism is so important in our society.
The journalist’s first obligation is to the truth. I know this now. As a Lehigh journalism student, this statement has become a permanent fixture in my brain. Years ago, I did not know this or have the slightest idea of what goals and aspirations one would have as a journalist. I did not know that veracity was a guiding principle in the news.
Looking back, I realize the reporter was simply trying to uncover the truth and had I spoken to him, perhaps the articles would not have gotten my age wrong or made claims that were entirely false. The journalist was not looking to harass me, but to bring clarity to an event that was pertinent to the community. I was not a target or a victim, but the subject of an event that people needed to know about.
Scrolling through the comments of the articles also made me aware of how significant open discussion is within our democracy, and how journalism is the guiding force behind such dialogue. In those comments, some regarded me as a hero while others declared that I was snitch, but that did not matter to me. What did matter and made my heart swell was the fact that people were talking, and that attention was drawn to the issue of drunk driving, which claims almost 30 lives in the United States each day. Though my private life had become public, I regarded the initial turmoil as an ultimate triumph due to the fact that such a significant matter was finally being addressed.
I think that my 12-year-old self would be pleasantly surprised to find out that journalism is not only my major, but also my passion. It is no longer my enemy, but the means by which I express myself and bring awareness to problems big and small. I only hope that as I venture more deeply into this field, I can share my experiences and provoke discussion about what matters most.
Jessica Hicks, ’19, is an assistant lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].