A few years ago, a colleague of mine retired after nearly four decades in local TV news. He stood up at his retirement and, amidst a tearful salute to friends and family, said the following about his co-workers:
“I will miss you so much. You are caustic, sarcastic, and extremely sharp.”
He meant this all as a compliment, and everyone else in the room seemed to take it that way.
I felt a bit puzzled by it. My colleague, essentially, was honoring us for our cynicism.
Many would argue journalists need to be cynical. We need to question, probe, disbelieve, and distrust in order to investigate and uncover powerful stories.
But, I would argue — and I think my colleague would, too — journalists need to blend that cynicism with idealism.
So often, the latter disappears over time. A journalist in any medium must combat a whole host of soul-crushing negatives: the drying of industry dollars, the demand to do sensational stories, the declining value of nuance, the importance of ratings and eyeballs at almost any cost.
But deep down, one would think, most journalists begin with — and would love to uphold — a certain sense of idealism about what they can accomplish.
That idealism often gets cultivated in college.