A dangerous job

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I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I entered college. I’d had a few chances to dip my toes into certain professions — four years of speech and my love for reading directed me toward something that involved writing — but I didn’t truly think of journalism as a possible career until I took History 7B at UC Berkeley. There was a book on the syllabus called “Dispatches” by Michael Herr. A model English student, I barely opened any of the required readings, but I found myself caught up in Herr’s dire Vietnam War scenes. When I flipped to the back of the book, I expected to find that he was a historian or sociologist, but no. Herr was a journalist covering the war for Esquire and living with the troops.

Reading coverage on a topic as sensitive but as necessary as war showed me how important journalism is. When I brought the topic of war correspondence up to my mom, she absolutely shut me down. But war correspondence isn’t the only dangerous form of journalism. In fact, I would say there is no “safe” form of journalism.

On June 28, five journalists were killed at the Capital Gazette; the suspect is a man who had a long-standing feud with the paper, sparked by a lawsuit against it that he lost. The man had criminal harassment allegations made against him, which the paper covered — and he then sued the paper for defamation. The case was dismissed, but the decision did not protect the Capital Gazette’s journalists.

After reporting on Berkeley’s news for two years, I felt in a rhythm in the news we were reporting on. There were crimes, new restaurants, groundbreaking studies and meetings and events to attend — all important things for the city’s paper of record to write down and immortalize. I’ve had my fair share of danger reporting at violent protests, but that’s something I can bite my tongue and cover. Being a part of The Daily Californian seemed like a normal extracurricular — it felt like a club. It was normal. That rhythm was shattered three weeks ago by five deaths in Annapolis — when five journalists were murdered for reporting on their own rhythm.

Journalism can be dangerous. We’ve all known that. But only specific forms of journalism, such as war coverage, are ever presented as dangerous. No one talks about the fear of being wrong, the violent events and protests, the angry comments from people who disagreed with your article even though it was nonpartisan. The dangers of journalism aren’t a “can” situation, but an “is.” Journalism is dangerous.

That doesn’t deter me from pursuing it, though. Yes, journalism is dangerous, and journalism is incredibly taxing on an emotional level — shoutout to all the people who start heated political debates in the comments section of our articles — but journalism is an extremely important profession. We report on important news; we record what happens in the city. As Herr’s book is for the Vietnam War, we could be some of the last surviving records of what happens in Berkeley and at UC Berkeley. Journalism is significant as a means to learn about the world today, but also so that 10 years from now, people know what happened.

Some people will disagree, some people might overlook the necessity of the news, and some people might even shy away from pursuing journalism as a career because of these dangers. That doesn’t mean the news shouldn’t be reported. We can’t stop reporting because people disagree with us, or even because of threats.

Regardless of the danger, the news needs to be told, and I’ve had my fair share of angry comments, danger at protests and even worries about libel or factual accuracy. But what else can I do, other than ball my hands, pack milk and water, and keep reporting? I know it’s important that these stories are told, and I want to tell them. Regardless of the danger.

Sakura Cannestra is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.