As journalism students, we are taught reporting techniques, AP Style and are drilled to blog endlessly. However, something we are not taught is how to face public criticism, an ever-present aspect of being a journalist.
As a child, I always fell to the more shy side of the spectrum. I hated raising my hand in class, I got anxious when I had to make a phone call to someone I didn’t know and I and made my parents order for me in restaurants until I was 16 years old.
Now, as a 19-year-old, I am more than capable of ordering my own meal. And during this time of my life, I have found solace in writing.
I gained confidence writing for my high school newspaper and was proud to be one of the three editors in chief my senior year. It was empowering to express my opinions and feelings in my high school community in a way that felt comfortable to me.
On Feb. 14, 2018, the Parkland High School shooting rattled the world on a new level. The tragedy shook me to my core, as the situation showcased extreme parallels to my contented New York suburb.
As student journalists, we could not sit by and say nothing, and I knew we needed to address the tragedy in our community however we could. The paper’s team of editors dedicated our month’s issue to the Parkland victims, printing their names and photos on the back page as a tribute.
But that wasn’t enough.
We could not ignore the larger issue at play and wanted to publish a debate-style article on gun control to exhibit both sides of the issue.
I made the decision to take the pro gun control stance. I was ignited with fury and terror over the catastrophe and found that by writing the article, I was processing my own emotions.
I spent hours researching, learning, writing, editing and making sure my information was accurate.
I was nervous about publishing a controversial article in my high school using my name, as I did not yet have the confidence to freely speak my mind, regardless of the opposition.
It was very out of my character to take on such a feat, but this was something I was passionate about pursuing.
We had someone write an anti gun control article to ensure fair and balanced reporting. A pullout quote from the against article read “People are just biased against what they haven’t taken the time to understand.”
Someone had taken both articles, circled the pullout quote, drew an arrow and pointed it at my “for gun control” article. They then hung it in our senior lounge for all to see.
I remember feeling my stomach drop to the floor when I received a text from another editor showing me the article hung in the lounge. Immediately I felt shame, embarrassment and regret.
Why had I taken the guts to write something only to be called out publicly by my classmates?
I was encouraged by my other editors, saying I had gained my “first hater” and had provoked a reaction in others.
One of the greatest responses to journalism is igniting conversation among others. While someone was trying to fire me up and tear me down, I had accomplished the goal of getting those in my community to think more deeply.
Initially I was upset, but in the end, I learned an invaluable lesson. I had taken the courage to put something out there and had received criticism, but it made me stronger and a better journalist.
At the end of the day, I was getting my voice heard, no matter the criticism I faced, and I got the gun control conversation started with students in my school.
Ultimately, I’ve gained the confidence to publish personal stories and controversial issues dear to my heart with my name proudly attached. As a journalist, one needs to have a strong backbone and be able to put up with criticism from others.
To whoever did this to me in high school: thanks a lot. You made me better.