Sunday, May 31, 2009

"... it's guerilla journalism" -- Barbara Ehrenreich

Award-winning journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed" and most recently, "This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation", gave the commencement address to UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism class of 2009.

She recalls her own career, from the lean times when she did her research at the public library, to the fat times, when she made up to ten bucks a word writing for Time Magazine. And now, what she told Cal's newest graduates is that they had just entered America's working class. "You may never have a cleaning lady," she told the grads. "In fact, you might be one. I can’t tell you how many writers I know who have moonlighted as cleaning ladies or waitresses. And you know what? They were good writers. And good cleaning ladies too, which is no small thing."

She was told by the dean to be upbeat and optimistic -- in the face of journalism being portrayed by pundits as a dying industry. And she was. Inspiring too, though not in ways you might imagine. She suggested new journalists reimagine themselves. She ended her address with this:

... Which brings me back to the subject of journalism as a profession. We are not part of an elite, akin to movie stars, anchorpersons and hedge fund managers. We are part of the working class – which is exactly how journalists have seen themselves through most of American history– as working stiffs. We can be underpaid, we can be jerked around, we can be laid-off arbitrarily – just like any autoworker or mechanic or hotel housekeeper or flight attendant.

But there IS this difference: A laid-off autoworker doesn’t go into his or her garage and assemble cars by hand. But WE – journalists – we can’t stop doing what we do!

As long as there is a story to be told, an injustice to be exposed, a mystery to be solved, WE WILL FIND A WAY TO DO IT. And what is so special about YOU, compared to a grizzled old veteran like me, is that you possess a multitude of new skills so that you can invent and CREATE NEW WAYS TO DO IT.

A recession won’t stop us. A dying industry won’t stop us. Even POVERTY won’t stop us because we are ALL on a mission here. That’s the meaning of your Berkeley degree. Do not consider it a certificate promising some sort of entitlement. Consider it a LICENSE TO FIGHT.

And consider this day to be your induction into a kind of knighthood—or samurai brotherhood and sisterhood. You are not civilians any more. You are journalists, which means you are part of a worldwide, centuries-long fight for truth and justice.

In the 70s, it was gonzo journalism. For us right now, it’s GUERILLA journalism, and we will not be stopped.

photo credit: Sigrid Estrada

1 comment:

Lotta K said...

loved it. for many reasons.