NELDON: Book reminds us why journalism is so important

Published 9:40 am Thursday, October 25, 2018

This weekend, I was practicing my favorite pastime with my twin (discovering new books) when one of my findings moved me to tears.

Displayed on a bookshelf with several other nonfiction volumes was a dark blue book with thousands of people holding candles on its cover. The title, “We Say #Never Again” sent chills through my spine, but the subtitle, “Reporting by the Parkland Student Journalists” brought tears to my eyes.

It took a solid five minutes before I was able to articulate my feelings to my sister (who clearly thought I was having some kind of quarter-life crisis right there in the Target aisle). Although I keep up on the publishing industry pretty well with my bibliophile tendencies, I had not heard that the students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas were putting together an anthology of their reporting from this horrendous incident.

When the Capital Gazette tragedy happened in Maryland this summer, my heart swelled with pride and understanding for the journalists who “put out a damn paper” the day after the tragedy — determined to finish the job they set out to do before a maniac opened fire on their newsroom.

Seeing the next generation of journalists — students who are not even being paid to put out news products — once again reminded me why I fell in love with this career, and why, no matter how many rumors fly that the industry is dying, I know in my heart of hearts journalism will remain a crucial piece of prevailing society for centuries to come.

These teenagers and staff members had the “fire in their belly” Mike Wallace writes about in “Heat and Light,” his book of advice for future journalists. They knew that in spite of the pain they were feeling with the loss of classmates and teachers, that it was important to put the horrific acts they experienced to paper.

I’ve written before that I chose journalism for four reasons: to preserve history, to involve the world in our story, to document the most pivotal moments in our lives, and most importantly, to foster change.

This book epitomizes those missions in a powerful way.

These students wrote the “first rough draft of history,” as former Washington Post publisher Philip Graham puts it. They told their story through the eyes of their peers and gave the rest of the world on the outside looking in a deeper understanding of what they experienced.

Although in our writing we’re taught to be flies on the wall, journalists very much experience the stories they report, and for years to come, our readers view those events through our eyes. This was the piece that moved me the most about this book — that these young journalists shared such a dark piece of themselves with the world, giving us an inside look at what it was like to experience the tragedy.

Most importantly, though, these students learned the valuable lesson that their journalism skills can help them foster change. Their findings will help litigators and public safety officials prevent similar events from happening again.

These students embraced the darkness, and shed a bit of light for the rest of the world, and in doing so, they reminded us what journalism is all about.