Why Do I Want to be a Journalist?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

This is the second place essay, by Aysha Jamali, on the subject “Why do I want to be a journalist?” She received Second Prize, a $1,000 scholarship.

By Aysha Jamali

Aysha Jamali-photo A journalist strives, researches, listens and educates. A journalist’s role is vast and has been a necessary ingredient in society throughout the history of the world. Media influences what we know about the world around us, how we form our opinions on issues and which issues are the most important to us. A journalist’s responsibility is to report with the intention of being honest and fair in representing what goes on in the world. That is my interest: to uphold the duties of media’s mediators.

Wickham Steed, an editor of The Times of London, said that journalism is “something more than a craft, something other than an industry, something between art and a ministry.” It’s a field that requires skill and creativity, but it also requires a sense of obligation to the people. And there are several obligations.

One obligation of the journalist is to keep a check on those in power. Governments and corporate organizations are often in a position to abuse their power. They serve the larger population, but are often run by a smaller elite circle. “Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing” says that “democracy is the healthiest when the public is informed about the activities of captains of industry and chieftains in public office.” It is the journalist’s responsibility to scrutinize those captains and chieftains in the elite circle, so that the common people can have a say in their policies and the actions affecting them.

Journalists also look out for those who can’t look out for themselves. The minority always needs a spokesperson whether it’s a daughter who lost her father because of hospital malpractice, a school in a low-income district with no money for textbooks, or hundreds of upset and recently unemployed workers from a billion dollar company.

A journalist’s responsibility is also to provide the public with unbiased information on current issues. A decision is so difficult to make when both sides are white-washing and sugar-coating the truth. Journalists are there to investigate and determine accurate from inaccurate. They provide not only facts but the scoop behind the facts. Journalist T. D. Allman said, “Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right.” It’s with this type of fact-finding that people can make rational decisions.

Another role of the journalist is to bring to concern issues that are otherwise not discussed. In the book “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” Bruce W. Sanford said that “most people would not see that they were being denied information about the world around them.” This requires the journalist to hunt for these hidden stories, and it can put the journalist at odds with bosses and peers. Stepping away from the mainstream is difficult but something a journalist should remember is often an obligation.

My background has taught me about the need for such responsibilities. My family and my Islamic faith have taught me that judging others is the wrong path to take since you don’t always know the whole story. I learned that what you hear is not always the truth, so you need to stay skeptical. I learned that there is always another opinion about a situation, so you need to stay open-minded. It’s because of this that I read about a war, a robbery or a movie release and I want to know what else is there that the media isn’t telling me. Did those people really initiate the shooting? Was that person trying to feed his family with the stolen money? Is this actor passionate about his role in the movie?

Beyond finding out the truth, I want to share the new ideas and incidents I discover. My question is always: why didn’t I know this before and why isn’t anyone spreading this around? I love a chance to sit down and hash out the day’s news. I relish the idea of communicating information to get myself and other people to think in different ways. It’s my inquisitive attitude and my itch to share information that attracted me to journalism.

Getting people to think in different ways is also a significant reason to have a diverse media. You can’t have variation if everyone thinks the same way. In “Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite,” Bernard Goldberg said, “It’s past time that we moved from a newsroom that simply looks like America to one that thinks like America – a newsroom that better reflects America in its highly varied beliefs and values and passions.”  A diversified newsroom is an atmosphere that permits the contribution of unique experiences and attitudes.

Media diversity is also important for avoiding cultural taboos and clearing up misconceptions. This brings to the mind the controversial shooting of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, imam of a local Detroit mosque. Local news stations reported on broadcast and on their Web sites that he was the ringleader of a group called the “Ummah.” Actually, all Muslims consider themselves to be a part of an ummah, which is an Arabic word roughly translated as community. It’s similar to Christians belonging to a church community. The mainstream media failed to clarify whether Imam Abdullah’s “Ummah” was just confused with the general concept of the Muslim ummah. If there were more people with that type of knowledge and background present in the newsroom, then confusions like that wouldn’t happen as often. When there’s less confusion in the media, the public is getting accurate information and putting its trust back in its sources.

The need to keep a check on bias by representing all sides of a story is also a reason why the media should be diverse. It only makes sense for the media to be as diverse as the people and the views they are representing. With the melting-pot that is the United States, we should be seeing people of all backgrounds in our media. In “Arrogance,” Goldberg said that “despite the overwhelming evidence, despite all the examples of bias that were documented in my book and others, despite the surveys that show that large numbers of Americans consider the elite media too liberal … the elite remains in denial.” Diversity breaks down that elite circle to allow for proper representation.

These roles are a part of the backbone that holds up a journalist as someone who strives, researches, listens and educates. I believe it should be every journalist’s goal to uphold the field’s values. I hope to make my career as a journalist by internalizing these values. I hope to use my Muslim identity and first generation immigrant background in striving for fair media representation through diversity. This should be the journalist’s drive. This is my drive.

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