There’s a seething hatred of the amateur in U.S. media culture. It comes from our idolization of those legendary writers who started their careers without our kind of savage competition (back when anyone with a strong stomach and a notebook could get a job in a newsroom, no matter how drunk or unreliable) and who’ve never had to save a sinking ship.
This hatred is enabled by a precisely-cultivated consumer hunger for polished, packaged media. Rough drafts are despised by U.S. audiences; they cringe with embarrassment at the manic glee we take in fumbling with new discoveries– an oddly placed semi-colon, an ill-aligned column with mismatched fonts, a lede uncovered six graphs too deep.
The condemnation of the amateur, the demand for a polished first try, the fear of appearing foolish– when these conditions put a tremble in writers’ hands, we get dangerously close to losing that crucial element which develops depth in our writing: a willingness to fail, and then to rise from failure without embarrassment. And then, for the hell of it, to do it again.
We need amateurs. It’s the amateurs that are refusing to abandon the ship. It’s the amateurs that run into the wreckage of Gannett’s slash-and-burn newsroom attacks to save the typewriters. It’s the amateurs, raised in the recession, who can make ends meet on a shoestring budget, even if it means blogging through the night, and handing out copies on the street. They’re rushing to the scene, they’re taking notes, they’re losing sleep trying to cover all the beats. Every incentive to do this work has been taken away except one: the love of it. And the amateurs have come for no other reason.
That’s why The Louisville Cardinal is so important. As the de facto journalism program at the University of Louisville, we’ve cleared a space where new writers can fall on their faces as many times as necessary to get it right. This paper is a learning clinic full of ugly injuries, false starts, hostile sources, too few helping hands, not enough money, and no one to say when. We fight uphill battles every step of the way. Our reward is in keeping the lights on, our victory is having stacks on the stands. Leave it better than you found it, our motto.
That’s what I’ve tried to do here. When I arrived, the few writers we had were paid in peanuts, given no class credit, squeezing articles out between second jobs and full course loads, and then getting told — if anyone read their work at all — that they’re horrible at what they do. We were sliding down the mountain slowly, with only 16 pages between us and oblivion.
But we rallied. We fought tooth and nail. In a time when circulation across the country was dropping, we rose to 20 pages (the issue you’re holding rose to 24). Then we published our first book. Now, in the 2013-2014 year, writers and staff will earn credit for their work at the Cardinal through our Campus Media class, and will have both an advisor and an experienced professor to help them chart their course and recover from injuries.
My belief in the importance of this work — of their work, of your work– never waivered. And it’s been my privilege to fight, to fail, and to win with these faithful few.
If you’re one of us, and you’re reading this, know that you have a place here. If you’re hands are trembling, we’ve got a cure. Know that our sweat and ink, since 1926, has gone into creating and protecting this paper in anticipation of your arrival. You’re the one we’ve been keeping the lights on for.
I’m honored to have been among those charged with this task, and to be the one to invite you now: leave it better than you found it.
Ave atque vale.