COLUMN: The Ends and the Means
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 00:10
Sitting down to write the words that fill this little strip of white space on the back page of The Heights is often my favorite part of the week.
More often than not, the words pour themselves onto the page. In the blinking cursor I find time to reflect and a renewed purpose: what thoughts do I have to put down worthy of being in print? In the amount of time it takes for 700 words to appear each week, I have once again discovered how much I love what I do.
Growing up, writing was always the answer. At age six, I couldn’t wait to get to second grade to spell compound words like “sunflower” and “playground.” When I lost the spelling bee by one word in the third grade (“delicious,” in case you were wondering), I think I cried—okay, I definitely cried. On standardized tests in high school, I strove for average in the math and science sections, only to make up for my lack of numerical sense with a perfect literature and essay score.
Writing was always the answer. My family knew it, my friends knew it, I knew it.
Last Tuesday, I found out why.
Although my first endeavors into the world of journalism began years ago, a certain doubt continues to plague me: Am I cut out for this? Don’t journalists make a living by butting into people’s private lives and personal affairs? Could I intrude on someone’s life, just to get a good story?
Do the ends justify the means?
David Jackson answered my deepest questions without even knowing it. Jackson is a colleague of Joe Bergantino, a nationally recognized investigative reporter who happens to be my professor for a journalism class held on Tuesday nights. As an investigative reporter at The Chicago Tribune, Jackson has most recently gained acclaim for his report on truancy and absenteeism in Chicago public schools.
In a phone call with our class, Jackson explained the process of interviewing children who had missed an unusual amount of school days and their families for his investigation. He stated his method as “genuine transparency.” He and his partner at The Tribune told everyone exactly what they were doing, and left the choice of whether or not to contribute to their investigation in the hands of those with a story to tell.
For Jackson, the wellbeing of his subjects was more important than whatever story they could tell him.
Had Jackson instead taken the approach of “the ends justify the means,” he may have had a better report. He may have gotten more questions answered, profiled more children, or talked to more school officials. But, in the process, he could have significantly hurt the very families his story intended to help.
Which, in my opinion, is the exact opposite of journalistic integrity.
Jackson’s success in journalism must be attributed, in part, to his desire to see the good in people. Through his work, Jackson says he “now truly believe[s] that most people are decent, [that they] want what’s best for the world.” His job as a journalist is to enlighten these good people to matters that need changing, and then inspire those same people to change the world.
In a word on a page: whoa.
Am I cut out to corner people on their front lawns about their wrongdoing? Could I be so intent on a story as to infringe on people’s private affairs? Could I dehumanize someone enough to say “the ends justified the means”? No.
But I can change the world for the better with a pen and paper. I have the ability to positively impact people’s lives by writing the words they cannot themselves express. Thanks to Jackson, I now have a real-life example of the kind of journalist I intend to be: one who uses transparency, with the subject’s best interest in mind.
If nothing else, I’ll cherish these little sections of white space I’m allowed to fill as long as I’m allowed to fill them.