Courtesy of Timehop, this piece on Anthony Shadid — which I’d quoted and linked on Facebook a year ago — showed up in my inbox today. It’s a beautiful piece from his student newspaper, the UW-Madison Daily Cardinal, written just after his death. Here’s the part I quoted:
Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, defined journalist. He first appeared in the doorway of the Daily Cardinal office on a summer day in the late ’80s carrying an army rucksack nearly as tall as him. He told the editor he had just moved up from Oklahoma to attend UW Madison and to write for The Daily Cardinal. He had just gotten off the bus. He hadn’t found an apartment yet. Everything he owned was on his back. But he was ready for his first assignment.
This is what I wrote about that quote a year ago today, and I still believe it: This is how the best journalists in the world get started. They find their college newspaper, they show up, and they do work.
I’m so frustrated when journalism students refuse to work for their college papers. First of all, how often does that really work out? And second, it’s usually because they think they’re better than the newspaper, because it’s messy and sloppy and inconsistent.
They’re right about the sloppiness. I’ve seen very few cases where that wasn’t at least a little true. The Appalachian, the love of my life, produces very good journalism sometimes and very bad journalism other times. That’s just how it works.
But doing journalism only in the classroom isn’t an adequate journalism education. I can count on one hand the people I knew who went that route and ended up with even an internship, much less a job. Because you don’t know how it really works. Classroom journalism is sterilized. There are virtually no stakes beyond your own grade.
Student newspaper journalism is messy. You will make terrible mistakes. You’ll be embarrassed. You’ll be uncomfortable. You’ll produce some really awful work.
But I promise, if you get in there and you put your heart into it and you work your [word I’m not going to say on my semi-professional blog] off, you will also produce some excellent work.
And you will get somewhere. If you’re any good at all and you work that hard, you will get where you want to go.
But you can’t if you think you’re too good to start.