This Friday, I’ll drive to Ellensburg for my high school reunion. I can’t comprehend it’s been 40 years since that rite of passage, which launched me out of my small-town comfort zone into college and career in the “big city” of Seattle.
I credit my high school journalism teacher, Steve Rogers, for inspiring me to write for the student newspaper. I remember that the first story I turned in, at age 14, wasn’t all that great, but Mr. Rogers encouraged me to keep at it, and soon I got the hang of the “five Ws and the H.” (For the uninitiated, that’s the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How that all news stories should include). I ended up majoring in journalism at Seattle University, where I worked my way up from cub reporter to editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Spectator, my senior year.
Truth be told, my real love in high school was drama, and I was involved in every play production from freshman through senior year. But I knew that making a living with a theater degree might be tough, so I majored in journalism instead — which at the time seemed like a career with more job security.
In 2015, that is an almost-laughable statement.
Every year, I work with high school and college students who are passionately pursuing the same career path that I did, with no guarantee that they can find a job or earn a living — in journalism, anyway. There are of course many communications-related jobs that a journalism major can pursue — mostly in public relations — but that’s certainly not journalism.
When I graduated from college, the news business was still basking in the glow of the Washington Post’s Watergate scandal reporting, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. While young journalists in 1979 knew that they weren’t going to get rich, they were confident they could earn a living wage that would pay the rent and put food on the table.
Sadly, today’s high school and college graduates may not be so lucky. Yes, there are journalism positions — but with newspapers continuing to downsize and close, there are fewer of them. Many high schools are not even offering journalism classes anymore. Fortunately, Mountlake Terrace High School has a very strong journalism program, thanks to long-time teacher Vince DeMiero. But nearby Edmonds-Woodway High School not only cut its journalism and broadcast programs a few years ago, it also eliminated its high school newspaper. A large suburban high school without a student newspaper? Unthinkable.
I’ve said it before: Journalism is fundamental to our democracy. Sharing ideas, debating the issues of the day, celebrating our community’s successes and critiquing its failures are all essential components of a free society. It’s why I got into the online journalism business nearly six years ago and why I am still publishing this website — along with sister sites in Edmonds and Lynnwood — today.
When I attend my reunion, I suspect there will be many questions from classmates about what I’m doing these days. I have never been more proud of my career path because almost every day, readers tell me that our work is making a difference. But at the same time, the financial realities of this profession — both for me and for those who come after me — are clear. We must find a way, collectively, to support local journalism.
I continue to be grateful to those of you who have purchased an ad for your business or signed up for a voluntary subscription of any amount. It takes money to run this website, to pay writers and photographers and graphic designers and web hosting companies and technical support and advertising people.
More than 40 years ago, I started out learning about the five Ws and the H. In the past six years, I’ve learned another important lesson: Journalism will survive only with support from the community it serves.
Until next time,
Teresa Wippel, publisher