“Journalism is a short-term weapon when it comes to changing the world”

Every semester, I ask my feature writing students at UNC-Chapel Hill to write a quick essay — I give them 15 minutes — on the topic “why do you write.” Their answers, across the board, inspired me. Here are some excerpts:

“I write because there are stories I want to read, and no one else has written them yet.”

“I hope someone can read my work and put off whatever they had planned that day because they just want to keep turning pages. I hope a woman’s mom or dad or spouse finds her sitting in the same spot from hours before and asks, “you’re still reading?” And it’s something I wrote.”

“I write because journalism is a short-term weapon when it comes to changing the world.”

“Journalists are the ultimate public servants. They hold a sort of unpretentious power in our society. Without them, a democracy wouldn’t work yet they receive endless critique from their audiences. I think there is nobility in that.”

“Sometimes I get my subjects to tell me things they haven’t told others before and how am I supposed to not write after that?”

“Hopefully, my writing will be good enough one day to take people out of their bubble and force them to feel genuine empathy, at least for a few seconds.”

“Getting the message from (my subject’s mother) that the story was something she would cherish forever, that meant something to me. She said she could hear (her late husband) laughing. She hasn’t heard his laugh in 10 years, but my words let her feel that, even if just for a moment. I don’t know if I ever knew my writing could do that, and it brought me to tears in the moment I realized that sometimes it could.”

“I love the feeling of the story unfolding before me in my head, sometimes planned and sometimes not, and crafting a bunch of stats and interview questions into a compelling piece worth reading.”

“That (fourth-grade) teacher doesn’t know she was the one that inspired me to keep writing. She doesn’t know that her belief in me, and her encouragement of something I enjoyed, led to me pursuing writing as a career. I should probably tell her. I should definitely tell her.”

And a poem by Sam Doughton:

I write to enlighten.

To explain things that haven’t been explained and to teach what needs to be taught.

To give someone the feeling that I get when I read a break down of the triple-option offense in football, or the way Clayton Kershaw throws his curveball.

The “holy-shit-how-cool-is-that” feeling one gets from learning something new.

 

I write to inspire.

To remind people that humanity is, by and large, good, and there’s so much in life to celebrate.

(Sometimes, I’m writing just to tell myself those things).

To allow people to take a second to find joy in the stories or personalities of others.

 

I write to take a stand.

To say something meaningful about the world around us, and shine a light on those who do wrong.

They may be few, I believe, but that only makes them all the more worth highlighting.

Even if joy cometh in the morning, as scripture says.

 

I write to create.

To leave behind some sort of legacy in this world that someday, years from now, someone might come across and learn something about me.

Because when I learned music, and drawing, and acting failed me, the pen and paper didn’t.

And it still takes my breath away that I can create anything when I see a blank paper in front of me.

 

I write because I’m human.

Because I think, feel, have things to say, have stories to tell.

Like we all do.

And though there’s lots of minutia to deal with,

and it is a grind,

at the end of the day,

writing is best place to both lose and find yourself in the world around you.

 

And humans aspire to do both.

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