Reflecting on what journalism is truly about

How the hardest time to write can be the best time to write

Anna Malesiewski, Features Editor

The 73rd annual Emmy Awards took place Sunday. Many awards were won and many speeches were given, but the one that was most memorable to me was Michaela Coel’s.

Coel’s show “I May Destroy You,” which chronicles a young writer who struggles to navigate the public eye after being raped, helped her win the award for Outstanding Writer for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.

Coel gave perhaps one of the night’s shortest speeches, beginning with the words, “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable.”

Isn’t that what we all do as good writers, and good journalists especially?

I’ve contemplated fear in writing a lot this week. And as a writer, the times I’ve felt most afraid to write, and most afraid for people to read that writing, have been some of the most rewarding moments for me in journalism.

Journalism isn’t about writing what makes you feel good. It’s not about writing the stories that everyone wants to hear.

One of my favorite quotes — and one that has set my intention in journalism thus far – was said by George Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

Our job as journalists is not to make the people and institutions we write about look good. It is not just about highlighting successes.

It feels that sometimes as a journalist, I am expected to hold the responsibility of a publicist.

But my responsibility is to tell the truth and my dedication is to veracity.

The way that I’ve been able to gauge successful writing is by the amount of action that comes about as a result of it. Successful writing, by my definition, makes people want to do something. It makes people want to make change. It is a call to action.

I think we all have an incessant need to be remembered and to be heard, but my greatest hope is that I will be remembered not by my words but by what they allowed others to do and accomplish.

I got into journalism because I love to tell stories. I love to tell real stories. I love to tell stories on the behalf of those who can’t tell them on their own.

But my writer’s block lately has been so strong that it feels almost impossible to write the way that I am capable of writing on the issues that are so important. It constantly feels like I’m on the verge of a really important story but I just can’t pinpoint what it is or how I’m going to write it.

Chloe Forbes, one of my dearest friends and mentors, once told me that what’s arguably the best time to write feels like the hardest.

Now is the time to write.

In her speech, Coel also said, “Visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success. Do not be afraid to disappear — from it, from us — for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence.”

I think I will take that advice.

I think the best way to send a powerful message about PR in journalism is to not participate in it at all. To block its access to visibility.

I’ve trained myself to think that every word I write should be published and every story I tell needs an angle.

I think now is the time to sit back and assess the world around me in order to discern what needs to be told. To discern which moments require silence. I think now is the time for word vomit on my journal pages and columns like this that help me clarify my thoughts.

So that when the time is right, I will be able to write the stories I am meant to tell.

But for now, I will see what comes to me in the silence.



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