An Unconventional Path to the World of Journalism

One year ago today I walked into the office of The Texan in downtown Austin for the first day of my post-college career. I wrote about Child Protective Services removing a four-year-old without any evidence of child abuse—a story that I would continue to cover until the child was finally reunited with his family and the case came to a close in December. To the best of my knowledge, no major legacy media outlet in Texas published on the controversy that drew the attention of many state legislators.

Had you asked me at the end of 2018 where I thought I would be six months later, I probably would have guessed Washington, DC. During that fall, I came down with a severe case of senioritis and discovered a loophole in my school’s policy prohibiting students from studying abroad during their final semester. Having already explored the option of graduating early, I only needed nine units to complete my degree. Six of those could be completed through an internship, and with the other three I hoped to persuade my professor to allow me to complete the course long distance. I would technically—at least on paper—complete all of my coursework at the main campus.

But I realized that my hopes of interning in the nation’s capital would face a few challenges since I only began scheming during Thanksgiving break, a few weeks before the end of the semester. Not only would I need to convince my professors of the acceptability of my idea, but I also needed to secure an internship and I had absolutely no idea how I would afford it. 

Even at that late stage, though, it seemed to be where God was leading me and I decided to take a leap of faith. My anxiety was high for the next few weeks, but by the time I was taking my final test, I knew it was my final test on campus and that God was blessing me in the direction I was taking. My professor told me that if she could have it her way, she would have rather I stayed for the spring; our class was editing a book we wrote on C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy as our capstone project and she did not want me to miss out on building relationships with our group. But she added that she saw my restlessness as God’s leading and did not want to stand in His way. By the final week of the semester, I secured a paid internship in the Senate and won a first-place, $2,500 essay scholarship which I had submitted in the summer and forgotten about. The otherwise stressful semester ended on a high note and in January I was on a plane eastbound.

Going into the internship, I anticipated that it might serve as a boarding ramp to a career as a staffer on Capitol Hill. And for the first few months of the year, my expectations did not change. I know many grow disillusioned with the city after some time there, but that was never—and is still not—the case for me. Having studied political science under good professors, I knew the reality of where I was headed. I was well braced for all of the bureaucratic joys of our government and the folks who run them that trip over their own egos all too often. But like Mr. Smith, I found myself in awe of that monumental city. It constantly reminded me of the legacy of America as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence—well, except for the Hirshhorn Museum, but I’ll leave that rant for another day.

Though I never grew tired of bringing tourists through the Capitol, I realized that it wasn’t my time to be in DC for the long haul. Most professionals on the Hill—and I suppose it’s true most elsewhere, too—need to have an expertise and passion for a particular subject. My interests were much too broad. I went into college for filmmaking and wound up studying political science. And in politics, if you asked me for the top three policy areas that interested me, I would have had as much difficulty in picking those as I would in choosing three books I’d want to be stranded with on a desert island.

When the chief of staff in my office pressed me on what I wanted to do with my life, I had an answer: “I want to be a voice of reason in a sea of madness.” Vague as it was, I realized that it was not really something that I could achieve as a staff assistant, at least not in the particular way I wanted, though I could not put that nuance into words. I weighed the other costs, like the living expenses in Washington and the starting salaries for entry-level staffers, and decided it would be a better use of my time to build experience elsewhere. So I went back home with my parents and began looking for a job the only way millennials know how: on the internet.

I do not remember when, but I stumbled across the job posting for The Texan and my interest was immediately piqued. It seemed like the ideal opportunity. Not only was it a position where I could hone the craft of writing and practice being a voice of reason in a sea of madness, but it was also with a company whose mission I agreed with. While in DC, I had grown frustrated with the yellow journalism of our modern age—media pundits from both sides of the political aisle ranting about current events in order to stoke the passions of the most ferociously political Americans. I wanted the news. I did not want the news doused in commentary or the news framed to sway me toward a particular viewpoint. And—nearly as important, in my humble opinion—I wanted the media to use the Oxford Comma. The staff at The Texan shared my desires (though perhaps not quite as overtly with respect to my grammar gripe, but they agreed on that, too).

In past year,  I have written on a wide range of subjects, from the controversial parental dispute in Dallas involving an allegedly gender dysphoric child, to several pieces thoroughly analyzing the coronavirus data published by the state, to the towns across Texas passing ordinances banning abortion, to a partisan voting index of Texas counties, to an analysis of population growth in the state (which should have received much more attention than anyone gave it), to a historical synopsis of a 1927 bank robbery involving Santa Clause.

I don’t consider myself a great journalist by any stretch of the imagination. I would not be the least bit surprised if years from now, I look back at my portfolio and cringe at bad writing habits I barely notice right now. I already often think about recent pieces and wonder if I omitted any important facts. Nevertheless, I would consider myself a good journalist, thanks only to the sad reality that many reporters have done a grave disservice to the public.

Contrary to what many in the field seem to believe, journalism is not a high and mighty profession for the educated elite to goad the public along toward their vision for society. It’s a service wherein writers take the time and energy to learn the details of a situation and clearly communicate that information to others. No one is without bias, but the good journalist knows to leave the opinions with the consumer by providing them with context—especially when so many other reporters fail to do so on a given topic. That is the mentality that sets The Texan apart. That is how I approach my job. And that is how I strive to be a voice of reason in a sea of madness at this time when the world has truly gone mad.