Columnist and critic Christopher Hitchens once said, “I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.” Indeed, most journalists live their lives in pursuit of the truth -- and some of them even find it.
Wondering if you’ve got what it takes? We can think of no better occasion to highlight these young journalists -- and the stories they scooped -- than today’s World Press Freedom Day. We challenge you not to find inspiration and motivation in their example.
1. Woodward and Bernstein
Neither Carl Bernstein nor Bob Woodward had reached the ripe age of 30 when they broke open Watergate as reporters for The Washington Post. Their work was hailed as “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time” by legendary journalist Gene Roberts, and their bestselling book on the scandal, All the President’s Men, was on the bestseller lists for six months.
Looking back, Woodward credits their investigative success to how they communicated with their sources. “This was a strategy that Carl developed: Go see these people at home at night when they're relaxed, when there are no press people around. When the time is limitless to a certain extent and you're there saying, 'Help me. I need your help,' which are the most potent words in journalism. And people will kind of unburden themselves, or at least tell part of the story,” he told NPR.
2. Gina Mathew, Kali Poenitske, Maddie Baden, Trina Paul, Connor Balthazor and Patrick Sullivan
You may not know their names (yet), but these six Kansas high schools students fought the school board and won. Their dogged reporting skills kicked into gear after their local school district noted new principal hire Amy Robertson’s “decades of experience in education, which include international exposure as a teacher and administrator.” When looking into her past to do what they thought would be a simple bio, the students determined that not only were her master’s and doctorate degrees conferred by a “diploma mill,” but that her bachelor’s of fine arts degree did not even exist. After their concerns were initially dismissed by the school superintendent, the students persevered and Robertson eventually resigned as a result of the discrepancies.
Poenitske, 16, told Today, “This story really helped us learn how to keep going even when it gets tough, and when they tell you there’s nothing else to see. We knew there was a story there and so we wanted to share it with the community.”
Poenitske also addressed the negative buzz currently surrounding the journalism industry. “People should know that journalism does have an impact and can be used to create real change,” she said.
3. TJ Aumua, Ami Dhabuwala, Julie Cleaver, Kendall Hutt, Blessen Tom and Hele Ikimotu
While working on the Pacific Media Centre’ Bearing Witness project, a Pacific climate change multimedia journalism research and publication initiative, these six students from New Zealand have garnered praise for their unique representation of climate change framed through the lens of resilience and human rights.
Said Dart Centre Asia-Pacific director Cait McMahon in awarding Cleaver and Hutt the Dart Asia-Pacific Prize for Journalism and Trauma at the annual Ossie Awards in Student Journalism last year, “Cleaver and Hutt’s victim-focused story of climate change in Fiji through the eyes of one woman and her family’s tragedy was sensitive, well researched and of a high professional standard. The story was informative, and introduced a difficult-to-report climate change story in a very personal yet non-gratuitous way. The modality of hearing the survivor’s voice without interference from the journalist resulted in a well-produced and intelligently edited piece.”
4. Clare Hollingworth
World War II may be a huge part of modern history, but it was once just a “scoop.” The person doing the scooping? 28-year-old Clare Hollingworth. After fighting doggedly to become a reporter, Hollingworth was dispatched by her Daily Telegraph editor to Poland in 1939, where just days after arriving she noticed German tanks lining up along the border, according to Smithsonian magazine. She phoned a friend at the British Embassy, which ultimately led to the Polish government finding out about the imminent invasion of their country.
Hollingworth went on to have a seven-decade-long career in journalism, during which time she did everything from help 3,000 refugees escape from Katowice to freeing a kidnapped journalism. Reflecting on her career at age 92 Hollingworth told The Guardian, "I was not brave. I was not naïve. I knew the dangers. But I thought it was a good thing to do and witness and see, and I was more or less relaxed. I used to stop and sleep in the car, have a biscuit and a drop of wine, and go on. In those days we said you could go anywhere with a T and T - a typewriter and a toothbrush."
5. Nellie Bly
Elizabeth Jane Cochran, AKA Nellie Bly, was just 23 years old in 1887 when she stormed into leading newspaper New York World wanting to write a story about the immigrant experience in the US. While the editor turned down her pitch, he challenged her to look into the city’s notorious mental health hospitals instead. Bly feigned mental illness in order to do so, and ended up exposing the horrors of patient treatment at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum.
Says the National Women’s History Museum of her impact, “With this courageous and bold act, Bly cemented her legacy as one of the foremost female journalists in history.”
We’ve covered Woodward, Bernstein, Gina Mathew, Kali Poenitske, Maddie Baden, Trina Paul, Connor Balthazor, Patrick Sullivan, TJ Aumua, Ami Dhabuwala, Julie Cleaver, Kendall Hutt, Blessen Tom, Hele Ikimotu, Clare Hollingworth, and Nellie Bly. Now will your name make its way onto this list? After all, right now out there in the world (maybe even in your own backyard), there are millions of stories waiting to be broken. So what are you waiting for?