Opinion

That's the power of journalism | Andy Hobbs

Hats off to all journalism courses in Federal Way schools, which offer something more valuable than any Pulitzer Prize. These courses give students a stronger understanding of the media — the same media that shapes their understanding of the world.

I accept every invitation to speak about journalism in Federal Way schools. Most students are familiar with The Mirror, and by golly, some students even read it. In this profession, I'm usually the one asking questions. That's why I like talking with local journalism students about the craft. The best topics deal with the philosophy of journalism. On one hand, all we're doing is telling stories. On the other other hand, these stories are driven and molded by a mindset that understands the power of the printed word.

Last week, I visited Totem Middle School's newspaper and yearbook class, chock full of curious kids. One student asked if there was a favorite story from my career. I would like to share that experience with you.

In my early 20's, I worked for a daily paper in the Phoenix suburbs. Twice a week, I wrote a column about the accomplishments of everyday people. I reported on the small victories that make life a little richer. These stories ranged from local charity efforts and good deeds to 100-year-old women in nursing homes.

One particular afternoon, the so-called well was dry. With the deadline clock hanging over my head, I dashed off a short item on a Scottsdale man who needed a kidney transplant. The story covered the basics of a garage sale that would raise money for his medication and treatment. At the time, I didn't think much about it. I finished what seemed like a vanilla story, then moved on to the next one.

Six months later, the Scottsdale man called. After my article ran, a handful of readers contacted him, offering to donate a kidney. One of the readers was a match. The man's health improved dramatically over the following weeks. He wrote a letter to my editor, crediting the newspaper for saving his life.

This marked a turning point that inspires my career to this day. I discovered another dimension to the power of the printed word. That column did not appear on the front page under a giant headline, nor did it attract millions of readers. The column was much less glamorous than a murder trial or a sex scandal. But the column found the right reader, and that's what it's all about.

I learned the value of shining a light in dark places, for even a little light is better than no light at all. I learned that the right combination of words, packaged as ink on paper, can change laws and change lives. That's what it's all about.

I make my fair share of mistakes, and other journalists are better at the craft. However, that man with the kidney comes to mind every time I leave for work. Journalism is not about personal glory, but rather a search for the glorious truth. That's what it's all about: An ideal that the newspaper (or another medium) is a catalyst for positive change and enlightenment. It's about protecting people through the power of knowledge.

I am not sure whether I picked journalism or whether journalism picked me. When wondering as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'm sure the answer was Batman or some other superhero. As an adult, I can still defend truth, justice and the American way — not with a cape and mask, but with a pen and a raised fist.

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