I was 17 years old and nervously clutching to the recording device my high school journalism advisor had lent me. I was standing at the back of a press section as thousands of people listened intently to presidential candidate Barack Obama; he had yet to be elected. He stood before us promising change, reform, an end to the war and much more. To this day, I’m not sure if the campaign staff was aware that I was merely a high school journalism student, but I was there and I was inspired. I was inspired by Obama, democracy, the promise of change and most importantly, I was inspired by journalism.
A year later, I was on my way to Loyola University of Chicago to begin my major in journalism. In my three and a half years there, I had some amazing moments. I was writing as the School of Communication’s personal journalist, I covered Chicago City Council meetings while Alderman Sandi Jackson was in the hot seat for her husband’s misuse of campaign funds and I reported on Chicago radio waves when Obama won his second term in office. All of it was thrilling, but it was missing something.
When I chose to go into the journalism field, a fair share of warnings came my way… I knew very well that print journalism was suffering, but what I didn’t realize was that journalism as a whole was suffering too. All it takes is a quick look at the Pew Research website to see that the American people were losing faith in reporters, and as a former journalism student, I know that the reporters themselves are losing a little faith. True watchdog reporting has been replaced with fancy graphics and opinionated banter. A profession that prides itself on integrity, ethics and the common good has sacrificed its well-meaning origins for higher ratings. On air, the listeners would get 30 seconds of insight into the Arab Spring, 30 seconds allotted for a movement that would forever change the global environment and American foreign policy. I could go on forever lamenting, but the point is, I needed to get out. Graduation was coming at me fast and being a part of the profession I had paid thousands of dollars to learn about didn’t seem to be in the cards.
Most logical people probably would have taken some time to formulate a plan… I, on the other hand, moved to Stockholm. A job in Sweden with a think tank that focused on peace research was something that I knew I could stand behind. Five months later, you’ll find me here at my desk at the McCormick Foundation, working on press releases and social media. To be honest, I never saw myself behind a desk; but when I think about my seventeen-year-old self and my nervous hands gripping that recorder, I know I chose the right path.
The McCormick Foundation was founded by Robert R. McCormick, former owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. McCormick gave all of his belongings to create an organization that would be committed to sustaining a strong and free news media and enriching local communities and empower those whose voices couldn’t be heard. One way the Foundation is achieving this, and one of the reasons the Foundation appeared on my radar, is their work around news literacy. In a world of 24/7 news cycles and digital advances, the goal of news literacy is to educate and energize citizens—especially youth—about the value of news and assist them in developing a framework for assessing information. In a way, I never took off my journalism hat; I just changed the rest of my outfit. Every day, I’m proud to be a part of this organization and excited to see that through it, I can witness the change I always hoped to be a part of.