Making Journalism Your Mission
I was a reporter for 11 years. In all of that time, I was driven by a personal mission to step outside of my own experience, gain some wisdom about the world and write about it.
This guided me in the kinds of stories I wanted to write. I pushed hard to travel overseas to Bosnia to write about refugees who were being resettled in Dallas. I pursued stories about the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks in New York and their impact on families and communities.
I wanted to humanize the news.
This mission didn't come easily to me. I grew up in a family of scientists and engineers. In college, I studied computer science. But I also worked on the college newspaper. Late in my tenure, I realized that I wanted to become a journalist. I realized I needed a sense of adventure and exploration in my life, not simply money, status or security.
In order to set off on my own, against the expectations of my loved ones, I had to forge my own mission.
I mention all of this to say that while we all take different paths, for most of us, journalism is a calling, not simply a job. So it shouldn't be an outlandish idea that personal missions drive what we do as journalists.
These missions embody what we value most. Maybe we want to help others, or uncover corruption and the abuse of power. Maybe we want to understand and explain how things work, or create positive change in our communities.
The challenge we face, though, is that the longer we stay in the business, the more we're apt to forget why we got into it. That's why writing a personal mission statement can be helpful, because it can remind us about our passions.
It can remind us about what excited us in the first place.
I recently talked with a group of line editors at The Dallas Morning News about why it's important for each journalist to write a personal mission statement. By that, I mean crafting a couple of paragraphs about your life's purpose. It should include what's truly important to you. And what you'd like to contribute to the people around you.
Consider it a road map to how you'd like to live your life.
That might sound hokey or touchy-feely, but bear with me. Personal mission statements can drive us and affect how we conduct daily journalism. They can guide us through tough times. They can change how we view the newsroom diversity discussion.
Let me start by sharing my personal mission statement. Then I'll explain how it plays into my daily work. It's constantly evolving. But here goes:
"As a journalist, I'd like to gain wisdom about the world, experience things outside of my routine life, and help others understand the world through storytelling.
"As a leader and an editor, I'd like to stand for honesty, integrity and compassion. I'd like to help the people around me develop to be the best they can be."
The more responsibilities you take on, the less it seems they have to do with front-line journalism.
But having a personal mission statement helps me as an editor. It pushes me to get out of my office and spend time with other editors and writers. I need to do it more often. But whenever I do, it helps me gain some wisdom about the world by listening to them and coaching them through their stories.
My personal mission statement also reminds me of why I first got into editing. I was drawn to the joys of teaching and the rewards of creating an environment where the people around you grow, learn and succeed.
My personal mission also helped me get through tough times at my newspaper. We went through layoffs in October. I had to lay off three people from my staff. I tried to do it in a way in which these people could maintain their dignity. I don't know if I succeeded. I contemplated quitting.
But then I knew I had to stay, to help the survivors get through it and start to focus on the future.
So what about newsroom diversity?
It occurs to me that we often talk about newsroom diversity as an issue of race or culture or gender. But maybe we should also talk about it in terms of our personal missions.
When the line editors in the group revealed their personal missions, it struck me how wide-ranging they were, and how different these missions were from one another.
I think that a vibrant newspaper and a thriving newsroom need people with a diversity of personal missions -- all united by the common calling of journalism.