Shaun: Five Things You Can’t Be Afraid of if You’re Going to Study Journalism

1. Talking to strangers

This might sound obvious, but when you’re standing in Kenmore Square on assignment to talk to five strangers, it can be very intimidating. The truth is that most people will give you their time if you identify yourself as a reporter and are respectful of their personal space and opinions. That said, you’re going to get rejected, sometimes with a polite “I don’t have time, sorry,” and sometimes with any number of rude gestures. Subway stations and bus stops are great places to find strangers who have nothing to do but talk to you anyway.

2. Phone calls

You can’t interview everyone in person — in fact, you can’t interview most people in person. A lot of the reporting process is spent on the phone, which means phone anxiety has to go. I came to college with major phone anxiety (I think it’s common for people our age), and the first time I had to call a source for a Daily Free Press article, I was terrified. Phone calls are awkward, and depending on who you’re calling, they can be intimidating. Just remember to talk clearly, listen closely, and offer verbal affirmation that you’re listening every 10-20 seconds. You’ll be dialing like a pro in no time.

3. Criticism

It’s the only way you get better. You might come into COM as a first-year thinking you know how write a good news story, but chances are you’ll be amazed (like I was) at how you actually don’t. COM, and all the extracurriculars that go along with it, are full of people who have climbed the ladders and done the nitty-gritty and want to help you succeed. Take advantage of them and the feedback they give you.

4. Competition

I want to be a White House reporter one day, and maybe you do too, and so do a thousand other people, but not all of us can do it. There are a TON of jobs in journalism (despite what your parents might be telling you) across an incredible array of areas. That said, you don’t get a job just because you want it (insightful, I know). Competition for internships and jobs is palpable, but I think in some ways that’s a good thing. It encourages you to push yourself to better.

5. Anti-journalism rhetoric

People will argue that journalism is dying, but I’d argue that journalism has never been stronger. I know people whose parents hate that they’re studying to be a journalist, because they don’t believe the profession is noble or fair. And even a cursory scroll through Twitter will show you that it’s far more popular now to say “fake news” than it is to actually read news articles. You have to take anti-journalism rhetoric in stride, and use it to motivate yourself to be the best, most accurate, most factual reporter you can be.

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

Shaun: Sword making, or, the Importance of a Major/Career-Related Extracurricular

My high school track coach always said that freshmen were like the beginnings of a good sword: useless, worthless hunks of metal. They have no idea what they want to do, he would tell us, much less what they should or should not do. So they try everything; things they’re good at, things they’re definitely bad at, and everything in between. Freshmen are stupid, he said — and that’s what makes them great. They take the biggest risks, and they fail most of the time, and they really consider quitting. But once they find that thing that makes them come back for another day, either because they’re good at it or because they love it or both, it makes all the stupid first-year pragmatism worth it.

At this point it’s time to start making the sword, and the worthless, first-year piece of metal gets thrown into the fire. Day in and day out the metal is casted and molded, then casted and remolded again, until it’s strong enough to be brought out onto the anvil. Now the metal is hammered out, then it’s plunged into ice water, then hammered again, and again, until a sword is finally taking shape. In time the metal is remarkably strong, and it starts to be sharpened. Subtle and precise refinements form the edges that make the sword so effective and powerful. Some four years later, it’s spring of senior year, and what was once a shapeless clump of metal has been forged into a tool of absolute and utter destruction. The process was lengthy, and it was difficult. But it pays off. The result is something unstoppable, something purposeful, and above all, something of which you’re incredibly proud.

Sword-making is a really good metaphor for track and field, but I think it’s a really good metaphor for college, too. Freshman year on campus is the time to embrace the hunk of metal status. It’s the time to try everything, and be bad at things, and be stupid, because that’s the only way to find your thing. For me, that thing was The Daily Free Press; for you, it could be literally anything (we’re at BU, people — don’t tell me you can’t find an extracurricular). And once you have that thing, throw yourself into the fire. If you’re already in the fire, keep throwing yourself in. Hammer yourself into shape. Sharpen your edges with internships and study abroad and classes you love. Four years will go by in a blur. But you’ll come out of this workshop we call Boston University a tool of destruction ready to conquer your field and, if you’re feeling up to it, the entire freaking world.

And please, don’t be afraid of failing. The fire will always be there.

xoxo,

Shaun