Four Things I've Learned From Journalism
by Molly Kruse
Have you ever stepped way outside of your comfort zone and, in doing so, become a whole different person?
I lived with friends my senior year of high school. While they had parties in the living room, I would hide in my bedroom reading and writing for hours on end. I also attended a local university for dual credit that year and skulked around campus from class to class avoiding acquaintances with earbuds in my ears. To call me social would have been a huge joke.
So come freshman year at the University of Oklahoma when I chose to major in journalism, I expected to become better at writing--the thing squarely inside my comfort zone.
I did not, however, expect to be pushed into becoming a more well-rounded person, which is exactly what happened.
Over the course of just two semesters as an Arts and Entertainment reporter at the school newspaper, I was challenged again and again. Every day held a new possibility: of boldly approaching someone I didn’t know, of having to pester a source to get back to me, of asking complete strangers often personal or touchy questions.
Through this, I learned valuable lessons--not just about journalism, but about life. I learned:
If you’re feeling awkward, ask questions. A key part of being a journalist is asking questions, whether you’re challenging popular wisdom and beliefs or simply trying to get a story from a source.
Ever been in an awkward situation with another person where you don’t know what to say? Well, I’ve found the same list of questions given to every journalist--when, what, where, who, why, how--can also help me keep my cool when I’m stuck with less-than-brilliant conversationalists. Having a template of questions to ask to keep the conversation going (“When did you graduate from college, Roger?” “What did you study?” “Where did you go?”) can politely and subtly shift the burden of conversation onto the other person and give you room to breathe.
Being pushy is okay sometimes. I was raised to be unobtrusive and to never be rude. It’s also just in my nature to not want to bother people. But, as I learned from working at the school newspaper, sometimes you just have to. You have to ask people to show up, to follow through, to do something for you.
It’s possible to be polite yet firm. It’s okay to be direct. And, sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary to just tell someone what you need.
The best way to combat anxiety is to be prepared. I am (occasionally) a socially anxious person. By which I mean, I’ve experienced actual dizziness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations before and while talking to strangers in the past. As a journalist, I took care of my future self by carefully preparing for each interview, writing a detailed list of questions, making sure the source had my number, having my favorite pen at the ready. If you choose to be in a situation you know will stress you out, the best thing you can do for yourself is to think ahead. Rehearse that speech. Pack a snack and gum for the plane ride. Do your research on places and people. Your future self will thank you.
- Curiosity is an ingredient of a full life. Journalism is driven by curiosity about people, places, and events. If you aren’t curious as a journalist, your story will lack depth or interest--in fact, you might not even have a story at all!
For my job, sometimes I’ve been so desperate to find a story I’ve read all the chalk art beneath my feet, talked to all the people tabling on my college campus, and even asked random acquaintances lots of follow-up questions when they said something even remotely interesting. And by doing so I’ve not only found great news, I’ve found interesting new friends, hobbies, organizations, and causes that I never would have known about if I’d chosen to walk by them with my earbuds in.
These are the ways journalism has enriched my life. But I want to hear from you guys. What is/was your major, and what has it taught you about the world around you?