The Intersection of Journalism and American Politics

At the 2018 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, The Dallas Morning News Mexico Border correspondent Alfredo Corchado shared his own immigration experience and how that allows for the honesty of his storytelling. One statement from his panel that stood out to me was when he said that he could not compare his own immigration story to the stories of children today.

This statement, though simple and almost obvious, profoundly summarizes America’s recent rapid reversal of its years of social progress. The United States set a historical precedent for being a progressive entity founded on the ideals of personal liberty. Until 2016, the nation had almost always worked towards social change, guaranteeing more rights for more of its citizens. Since Trump’s election, the media has brought more attention those in support of inhumane immigration policies, both pre-existing and new.

At the conference, Lindy West, opinion writer for The New York Times, took the stage for the keynote address at the Literary Lights dinner on Saturday night and immediately exposed the underlying sociopolitical themes of modern journalism. She spoke unapologetically about her own abortion and made known the necessity of having such conversations in today’s political climate. Basic human rights are on the line every day, especially with Justice Kennedy’s recent resignation and the possible reversal of Roe v. Wade.

When introducing the topic of abortion in her speech, West acknowledged the stigma surrounding the words she was about to say. The division in the room was physically apparent as journalists squirmed in their seats, but our table of high school girls sat in absolute awe and adoration as she spoke words which seemed unspeakable. She broke the tension with a comment which would encapsulate the importance of honest journalism in America today: “You can’t fight for something you can’t say out loud.”

The sheer bravery and candor with which West spoke represents the best of journalism in America today. Personal stances on the hot-button issue aside, West’s integrity and journalistic strength demanded to be acknowledged. Even without having read her works, anyone in the audience could easily tell she was an authentic writer.

Today, voices like Lindy’s and Alfredo’s are necessary because Americans cannot trust that their constitutional rights will be guaranteed tomorrow; for many, these rights have already been taken away. The United States is standing at a point of uncertainty, and it is our responsibility as a nation to decide how to stop this cycle of dehumanizing human rights.

Honesty is essential to the success of American democracy. Immigrants reporting on immigration, women who have had abortions speaking out about abortion, and the voices of others who have gone through experiences that are now politicized allow the American public to view these issues through a human lens rather than a partisan one.

Movements such as #MeToo and #ShoutYourAbortion create safe environments in the digital age for the specific form of storytelling that creates tangible change. The ripple effect of new stories and perspectives being brought into the world may not end Trump’s tyranny, but it does stifle it.

While the future of America is unknown, the future of journalism was present at the 2018 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. I was one of eight high school journalism students who received the opportunity to attend the conference and spend the past week at UNT putting together multimedia projects to report on the event.

The eight of us are all from different backgrounds and areas in Texas, but we are united by our love of journalism and passion for honest storytelling. A recurring theme amongst our projects is the desire to uncover the truth, and that authenticity will drive the future of American journalism. Honest storytelling will save us.

Best quotes from 2018 Lit Con

The Mayborn High School journalism camp has been amazing. Spending time with people who have the same love of journalism I do, being around some of the most well-known minds in journalism, and getting to spend a lot of time (including eating and sleeping) at a college campus was an eye opening experience that excites me for my future. I learned how important the truth in journalism is, especially in a time when fake news is prolific, and particularly inspiring were the two keynote speakers Friday and Saturday night at the convention. Diana B. Henriques and Lindy West are ambitious, courageous women, and as they shared their stories about their lives in journalism, I found myself scribbling down more and more quotes. So here’s a treat for all those who missed it: the best quotes from the weekend with some photos from my journey along the way.

diana 1

 

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lindy 3

 

lindy 4

 

lindy 2

 

diana 2.0 (1)

 

last one

 

My Post (1)

 

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Plus a bonus quote from my amazing workshop leader Leah Waters, said while we were discussing how to report on the Mayborn conference:

 

plus one

An Outspoken Journalist’s Call to Action

Keynote speaker Lindy West shares the importance of opinion and truth in storytelling

I’ve been told my opinions are irrelevant in journalistic writing, and people only want to hear the facts. I’ve been told this was the way to become successful. I’ve been told a loud and opinionated woman is just bossy and whiny. That was until I heard Lindy West speak.

At the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, West gave a keynote that left people speechless. Her political discussions divided the room and caused many to feel uncomfortable. Here are a collection of her quotes that left me thinking about the impact that storytelling really has.

“When we don’t hear people’s stories, our collective reality becomes warped.”

West conveyed power through her words. I learned that words have the power to educate and change minds. They can affect someone’s political views or personal bias. After hearing Lindy West, I was completely inspired. Never before had I heard a journalist, especially a female journalist, speak so expressively.

“You can’t fight for something you can’t say out loud.”

Being a journalist means using your influence and outreach to voice your opinions. West showed that it’s important to fight for your beliefs. She did so by discussing her own stance and personal experience with abortion. Knowing she would be faced with criticism, she made the conscious decision to still bring up such controversy. West was confident enough to stand before a large audience in a conservative area and still strongly voice her support for abortion. I saw a courageous woman who was determined to spread her truth.

“We can choose to say yes to the truth and protect the truth-tellers.”

West additionally acknowledged how writing should be honest and adds that “dishonesty is toxic.” Storytelling isn’t all fairy tales and fiction. Most of it is actually sharing true stories and expanding movements. Movements such as #MeToo that has brought people together to support survivors and end sexual violence.

“Storytelling matters because once we’ve declared ourselves, there’s no going back.”

In a time where people are full of ignorance and hatred, stories can be our most useful weapon in killing this hatred. The current “Trump Era” has given light to how many people are hateful and have prejudices towards minority groups such as the LGBTQ community and immigrants.

The truth is revealed through stories. It sets the record straight on what people are really like rather than relying on other existing preconceptions. Personal experiences and narratives have a greater lasting impact that can break down stereotypes that were present for years before.

Listening to Lindy West has fueled my love for journalism and given me a new perspective on exactly how important it is for our world to have strong, determined storytellers.

Silencing student voice

A commentary by Neha Madhira

How censorship proves administrators care more about school image than quality journalism

“When you censor blatantly, lies are just as valid as the truth.” – Lindy West

The New York Times opinion writer Lindy West was the keynote speaker at the Literary Lights Dinner, and there were around 300 people in the room. As she spoke about topics such as Donald Trump, abortion, sexual assault and the importance of speaking up, everyone fell silent, eyes widened and it was clear the room was divided. Occasionally, there would be applause from people including myself who were empowered by her, but as soon as she spoke about censorship, tears welled up in my eyes. All I could think about was the censorship at my school and the firing of my adviser.

I was Assistant Editor of our online newspaper last year and our new principal John M. Burdett censored our stories, banned editorials and fired our adviser, Lori Oglesbee.

Since Hazelwood gives administrators the power to silence us, I set up meetings with Burdett to reason with him and our editorial board sent a letter to him, the superintendent and the school board. In the last meeting I had with him and my father, I created a document for him with the help of Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Director Lori Keekley and Student Press Law Center Legal Consultant Mike Hiestand, but there were still no changes to the policy.

After the third time we were censored and editorials were no longer allowed on our paper, all I could think about were the students left in the dark about what was happening at our school. We could not talk about injustices or anything we felt could be improved, because our voices were belittled.

What West said resonated with everything we were going through because rumors or inflammable tweets about our paper and our adviser became just as believable as the truth, especially when there was no way we could set things to rest. For the last 30+ years, administrators have censored student voices with the concern that we will cast our school in a negative light, but in reality, it shows administrators care more about the image of their school than students learning about quality journalism.

Even after local and national media publications such as The New York Times covered our story and 17 press associations along with the SPLC sent our administrators a letter, we received nothing but a deafening silence.

Through West’s speech, it felt as if she acknowledged this and understood that even though we will never stop fighting, it is still painful. The blatant censorship of student expression still exists. Although I knew our focus had to be on the importance of student voices, it still hurts knowing that we had to trade our adviser for wanting the right to publish. West understood that censorship is a painful process.

To our administrators, it didn’t matter that we were reporting the truth or that we had a teacher with 35 years of experience who coached her students writing and photography so well they advanced to UIL Journalism State and won 175 awards in one year. If they didn’t agree with what we had to say, it would not be published.

This is why I started fighting for New Voices, a student-led movement which not only legally protects students from censorship by their administrators when they are reporting responsibly, but it also protects advisers from being fired or pushed out under these circumstances. West mentioned, “You can’t fight for something you don’t say aloud,” and if we don’t speak up, all of this will happen again. A movement can only succeed when students move out of their comfort zones and stand up for what they feel is right.

Neha Madhira

The Road So Far

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Oscar Wilde

Introduction to Me: Learning From My Lows

Over the past few years, I struggled to meet and connect with new people, avoiding social engagements like the flu shot I refuse to take each year. I have a few good friends. Let me rephrase that — I have a few friends and one superbly dynamic friend. Even so, I find it hard to be transparent and explain how I truly feel.

Thus, this Oscar Wilde quote directly and succinctly illustrates what I grapple with. Like countless others, I use screens to clearly and unwaveringly express my creative and intellectual endeavors. Photographs catching beauty off guard in ordinary places and words strung together like popcorn and cranberries around a tree in assorted patterns allow me freedom to personalize my thoughts.

The Conference: It Begins

Before I checked into the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference and started meeting the girls in the group, I was an anxious wreck, as my parents could attest. While I didn’t express it on the outside, my insides were vomiting butterflies. If you cannot tell so far, I’m quite the social introvert: I’m not proud of this but there have been intermittent weeks over the summer where I did not leave the house.

Nevertheless, I ached to be comfortable. As I met Leah and the girls, I began to realize my worries existed inconsequentially; they were all cool, friendly people. This valley of comfort was not lasting for the world of my mind. As we learned of our tasks and I learned everyone’s background, the fluttering array of butterflies resurfaced as fears of my inexperience increasingly tormented my stomach.

Butterflies

The butterflies entered slowly throughout the first day, accelerating as I reflected more and more. During dinner, they slowed as the Soiree engulfed my thoughts. Diana B. Henriques’s discourse on the intersectionality of all facets of journalism, especially business and politics, allowed me to attain a new perspective on my purpose here. I was here to learn and experience. I am here, and I belong.

Despite this revelatory respite, my evening U-turned Friday night when I got back to my room. I began to dwell on my inexperience, arriving in an overwhelming discomfort knowing I was surrounded by such an accomplished group of people — my peers and the award-winning journalists in the rooms around me.

Breaking Through

I awoke well-rested not knowing my fears would soon become determination. I entered the lobby and met someone new. My roommate. I immediately put away my selfish anxiety and did something that granted me ease — helping others. I helped her get a room key and soon we were off to meet the group with potential story ideas.

My doubt — that is all it was anyway, my fear of inadequacy — flared as I realized my thoughts and research were just ideas, not stories. But as teams formed ideas for stories formed, and we had a couple of directions to veer towards: telling stories people don’t want to hear and the balance of reporting to entertain and inform.  

Determination took control and we collaborated to generate insightful questions to ask Alfredo Corchado, the Mexican Border correspondent for the Dallas Morning News and renown author and journalist. The lunch with Corchado reassured me all of these prominent journalists were people, and I connected with their yearning to tell stories about people’s humanity.  

The Light At the End of the Tunnel

Throughout the day, we observed, listened to and collected information and lessons from scholarly people who knew what they were talking about. This is the part where I learned this experience is not about me and my lack of experience, but about becoming a better journalist, and — most of all — a better storyteller.

This is the part where I became inspired. We dressed up to the nines, exhausted but excited, and at Literary Lights Dinner, while the food was just okay —not everyone knows what a vegan is— Lindy West delivered an impassioned and awakening message to “be loud,” unapologetic and fight for truth and justice. Her unashamed opinion on abortion gave me courage to accept what I believe in my heart about, not only abortion, but all social, civil and political movements.

At #MaybornLitCon18, I learned while it’s okay to struggle and feel emotions, to ensure your strife is worthwhile, you have to gain perspective. I cultivated confidence to assert my opinions and trust in my abilities as a writer and journalist.