by Roy Theiss
Intoxicating, challenging, rewarding. A career in journalism is certainly that and so much more.
One can champion causes, expose malfeasance and discover the world while earning a paycheck. Fortunately, most young people going into journalism do it for passion rather than money because the money isn’t that much. This is especially true when breaking into the field and one starts at a small paper. Personally, I had to take a cut in pay from my job as a custodian to become a reporter. While finishing my college degree at UNLV, I worked full-time as a custodian on campus. After graduating in the summer of 19, I jumped at the chance to work on a community newspaper - the Henderson Home News. Who cared if the salary was less than a janitor’s, I was going to make a difference.
Studying the humanities lays a solid foundation for a journalist. Become a voracious reader (even if it is mostly periodicals - magazines) and be a sponge when learning new things. You don’t have to be an expert, (in the newspaper world, those are the columnists), just be eclectic and listen. The field of journalism is humbling because your opinion doesn’t matter (unless you’re a columnist).
Being a reporter provides for countless opportunities to learn new things and meet interesting people. From jazz cats to desert rats, I have been blessed to sit down with countless fascinating people. I have flown an ultra-light, bounced around during a SNORE race and gently floated while rafting part of the Colorado River. All because there’s a story to be told. Some of the notables I have had the privilege of interviewing or meeting include two former presidents, two college presidents, a few doctors, lawyers, scientists, farmers, teachers, and even an Indian Chief. Many of these were pushing a cause (can you guess who was promoting Habitat for Humanity or why Carl Sagan was out in the Nevada desert?). Certainly these were some admirable and lofty issues on a national and worldwide level, but I also found equal excitement and joy being able to report about a high school baseball team going to regionals or a teacher winning a national award. Then there’s the gut-wrenching stories of individuals fighting cancer or overcoming a disability and you count your lucky stars and hope your work as a reporter will do some good.
With a journalism degree in your back pocket, you can work anywhere as long as people in the area can read, so that counts out West Virginia. I’m only kidding. That’s where I started my collegiate endeavor in earnest and a love for the written word.
The Criminal Justice Department chair at Salem College was also the advisor and only professor in the field (it was a small college). As a former Marine and an attorney, he was intimately aware of the profound influence and impact of both the written and spoken word. He stressed, rather, it was the crux of his academic existence, knowledge. For Professor Lasko, there was only one path to understanding and comprehension.
Before every class started, students had to know the definition of every word in every sentence in every paragraph of the reading assignment. If called upon and one didn’t know, a zero would be recorded for the day. Get three zeroes and the best grade a student could get would be a “B”. Six zeroes - the best you could get is a “C”. So over the course of a semester, one could quickly see their grade slide before their eyes even before they took an exam or wrote a paper. Did I mention that Criminal Justice was my major at this college?
Everyone was armed with a paperback dictionary and legal pad full of definitions. Any polysyllabic word garnered attention but the good professor could trip us up on even one syllable words - what does mean mean? He taught us to keep a dictionary at your elbow so you can understand what is being conveyed.
A bright, articulate person will stand out in any crowd but then again so does an inarticulate simpleton. Pursuing a career in journalism provides for a better understanding of the world around us. And along the way, you just might be able to make a difference.
Roy Theiss is a former Editor of the Boulder City News.