2017: Donald Trump takes office. Millions take to the streets worldwide for global Women’s March. Evidence shows Harvey Weinstein paid off years of sexual abuse accusations, #MeToo movement spreads. Solar eclipse captivates the nation. Violent neo-Nazis take to the streets of Charlottesville. Mass shootings claim lives in Las Vegas, Texas and more.
2018: Seventeen are killed in a mass shooting at a middle school in Parkland, Florida. Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court despite rape allegations. Hurricanes Michael and Florence wreak havoc on the South. Democrats win House majority in midterm elections, Republicans strengthen Senate majority. The U.S. goes dark in government shut-down.
2019: U.S. government shuts down again. California earthquakes displace thousands. U.S. team wins Women’s World Cup. Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka kill 250. Mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso marks deadliest shooting of 2019. Flames engulf Notre Dame Cathedral in France.
2020: Wildfires rip through Australia. COVID-19 virus claims lives in Wuhan, China, Americans remain unafraid. “Chinese Virus” spreads, quickly becomes an “everyone issue.” Mandatory stay-at-home orders destroy the economy. Coronavirus plagues the U.S. killing 240,000 Americans. George Floyd is murdered by police, world takes action in response to Black Lives Matter movement. Movements turn violent. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. Justice Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed as her replacement. Americans turn out in record numbers to vote, President Donald Trump loses Michigan, then Pennsylvania, then the election. America speaks: Joe Biden wins presidency, Kamala Harris shatters glass ceiling. Alex Trebek of Jeopardy! dies from pancreatic cancer.
Headlines, by and large, show us the worst aspects of humanity.
To say much of life lies behind the headlines contradicts the majority of my work, belittles the importance of information and justifies perpetuations of “fake news.” To say much of life lies behind the headlines diminishes the impact global issues have on you and me, and truthfully, signifies a great deal of privilege. To say much of life lies behind the headlines, however, is often true.
When I think about what it means to be a journalist, I do not think of us as mere recorders of history, but as storytellers. We often refer to journalism as a voice to the voiceless, but much of mainstream media has strayed far from that. Alternatively, the media outlets we have been trained to trust have only handed a microphone to those whose voices are already over-amplified and have silenced those in need, who may contradict and say what we are often not willing to hear.
Headlines grab a reader, pad a resume, encapsulate countless hours of hard work and ultimately tell us what matters. However, my journalistic ego aside, when I evaluate my own “headlines,” they look quite different from those of the past four years.
2017: I applied early-decision to Lehigh, I got in. I graduated high school, I packed up my bags, I waved a teary goodbye to my parents at the doors of M&M. I met my best friends. Classes were harder than I expected. I did poorly— it got better.
2018: We sold my childhood home. I lived in a hotel, then a rental. I went through sorority recruitment, I made friends, I lost some, too. I gained weight, I lost some, too. I reconnected with old friends working at sleepaway camp.
2019: I gained confidence and stopped caring what others thought of me. I fell in love. We moved again. I traveled to Israel with friends who became family. Despite pressures to get a job, I went back to work at camp and redefined what it meant to feel unbridled joy.
2020: I went abroad in Seville, Spain. I became the most blissful version of myself. I met my idol. I evacuated Spain. I spent time with my family I never thought I would have again. I turned 21. I apprehensively returned to Lehigh, its foreign-feeling campus and all. I made the most of a hard time. I covered presidential campaigns. I voted in my first presidential election. I watched a broken nation put a woman of color in the White House. I worked harder than I ever have before. I rediscovered my voice. I was named the next editor in chief of The Brown and White.
It is so easy to sum up our own lives in the headlines, minimizing ourselves to the vague descriptors that write our stories, but in just four years of reporting, I have found the best parts of life are not newsworthy at all. Cliche as it sounds, a headline will never describe the feeling of long walks with loved ones, belly-laughs with friends, the smell of pine trees after it rains or the feeling of insignificance while staring at the stars. Mostly because we have been conditioned to equate journalism to breaking news, failing to see the importance of the in-between.
When looking at the headlines that make up our past year alone, it is impossible to feel uplifted. It is easy to encapsulate life into the overarching, all-consuming losses we have faced as human beings, but there is unity in a headline that affects us all. Behind the headlines that tore us down we have seen resilience we did not know existed. We have developed empathy where it often lacked, and we have shared a goal of recovery.
This year has forced me to re-evaluate journalism as I have seen how frequently those who have the greatest reach just get it all wrong. Throughout the pandemic I grew to detest journalism, winced at the sight of CNN and purged myself of the never ending cycle of bad news.
It was in the short-lived, ignorant bliss of my absent mindedness where I realized how much we desperately need to rebuild good journalism. Not to evade the bad and spread good news only, but to better depict the human condition and to unify, not polarize.
The world needs journalism. We need truth-tellers and accountability to those who influence us most. But we also need humanity.
Headlines tell stories, but humans determine the outcome.