If you’re a high schooler interested in journalism, congratulations, because you’re already a step ahead of where I was in high school. I didn’t decide to pursue journalism until I started applying to colleges and realized I needed to choose something to study.
Thankfully, though, I love my haphazardly chosen major, and after some classes and my NECIR internship, I can pass down some advice to you intrepid high school reporters.
First of all, teenagers should be interested in investigative reporting because they’re coming of age in a world that needs it. In fact, the world has always needed investigative reporters. If you haven’t already talked about them in a history class, check out the investigative journalists of the 1900s, “muckrakers” like Lincoln Steffens or Ida Tarbell.
Reporters of today dig into many of the same issues the muckrakers did. Ida B. Wells publicized the horrible reality of lynching in the south in the late 19th century; a Washington Post team won a Pulitzer Prize for its database of 991 fatal police shootings that took place in 2015.
Journalists can use their skills to expose these problems and, in doing so, help fix them. This is an exciting opportunity I think all journalists—especially high schoolers just starting out and looking for inspiration—should consider.
Becoming a good investigative reporter takes years, and although I can’t call myself an investigator yet, my semester at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has taught me a lot. Some things I wish I knew at the beginning:
- Boldness is always rewarded.
- People usually want to tell their stories.
- You don’t have to feel discouraged.
Shyness has never helped me at any point in this internship. I was often asked to cold call people who had no idea who I was. I had to confidently state my name, my organization, and then ask them deeply personal questions. In a normal, everyday interaction with a stranger, I would never do this. But for an investigative reporter, these calls are commonplace.
An upside to this is that it was rare for people to snap at me and refuse to talk. Sometimes, all people want is someone to talk to about their problems, and you can be the ear they need. I talked for an hour on the phone with a complete stranger about the difficulties she had with her late mother’s reverse mortgage. When our conversation was over, she thanked me for listening.
When people did refuse to talk to me, or when a story’s subject matter seemed heavy, I didn’t let myself get discouraged. NECIR investigates difficult topics, like the deaths of children in state custody. I looked into some stories myself that are, frankly, depressing. When I felt myself getting bogged down, I remembered the muckrakers and the modern journalists who have been rewarded for their efforts with reform.
Good luck in the beginnings of your journalism career, and know that journalists everywhere are here to help. If you have any questions about NECIR, or you just want to talk about what it’s like to be a student journalist, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miranda Suarez, a journalism major at Boston University, will complete her internship at NECIR in June.