Risking it for the reward

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but what happens when it meets a gun?

Like most of my peers, I was shaken by the Capital Gazette shooting. It’s not that I was very surprised that yet another deranged gunman had taken out his anger on innocent people, nor that I was surprised that his target of choice was a newsroom. But I was taken aback by the fact that it had actually happened: An upset reader had really opened fire on people who lived by the ideal that nothing could surmount the written word.

I grew up fascinated by the daredevil nature of journalism. What other profession lets you explore the world, play detective, meet famous people, cram your brain with exorbitant amounts of trivia and write for a living? I knew from an early age that I wanted to spend my life doing exactly that.

My mom shut that idea down pretty fast. “It’s a dangerous job,” “You’d make a lot of enemies” and “You’d do a lot of work for little reward” were the reasons that came up most often. Maybe law would be a better option, or perhaps teaching.

But I loved the idea of being a journalist. Tracking down the bad guys, writing exposés and serving society with the stroke of my pen sounded like the most badass job ever. Even better, journalists seemed to have nine lives. Nothing could shake them off the trail, no matter what the bad guys had up their sleeves. The sheer power of truth seemed to protect journalists — at least, it worked for Tintin.

That’s mostly why the Capital Gazette shooting was so jarring: Something finally burst that protective bubble that I had come to associate with journalism.

When I came to UC Berkeley, I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to study, so naturally, I picked mechanical engineering as my major. I knew I wanted to help people in some way, shape or form, but as I made my way to college, I felt like writing didn’t do enough. I felt like news writing didn’t affect people the way I’d always dreamed it would. Working with my hands and making things seemed like a more tangible way to make a real impact.

And of course, there’s little to no risking your neck in a steady engineering job. It’s a safe option.

As I waded through my first two years of college, I kept making my way back to writing. Berkeley being as replete with protests as it is, I got a taste of the daredevil journalism that I longed for back in the day. I saw hordes of people storm the streets in protest of a new president, watched my school apparently get lit on fire and tweeted about violent political clashes at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Every time I tried to drag myself away from the chaos — often citing my schoolwork and chosen path of study as a reason — I found that I was drawn even closer to it.

When I got the Twitter notification about the shooting, I realized that the bubble could be broken and would be broken — not just once by a madman with a rifle, but likely over and over, whether it be by angry protesters or gluttonous politicians. It’s real, honest journalism that often triggers such tragedies, but the work has to be done, and the work should always be done with integrity.

Mingled with my shock from the shooting was a feeling of overwhelming pride for the journo community. The Capital is a small, local paper that I’d never heard of until the incident, but it received warm support from big-time publications and journalists almost immediately afterward. What impressed me the most, however, was the paper’s own dedication to quality journalism in the face of mortal peril: Reporters were tweeting about the breaking news while an active shooter was still on the premises.

A community that is as dedicated to its craft as is the journalism community is one that I now know I have to be a part of. It’s not all fun and games, and it’s certainly not the cushiest job in the world. Journalists fight tooth and nail every day to deliver quality content, much of which is powerful enough to inspire action from readers (both good and bad). It’s a profession that I admire more and more every day, for it proves that although words are not an impenetrable shield, they are a mighty means of effecting change, and that makes all the difference.

Revati Thatte is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.