NOTE FROM PUBLISHER: I’ve received several requests for a transcript of the commencement speech I delivered to the Reed School of Media on May 10. Apologies for the delay. I didn’t have notes on stage so it took me time to go through. Thank you.
Thank you Dean Reed, members of the Faculty, family and friends, and most importantly, the class of 2019.
It is an amazing honor for me to be here today.
But first, let me address the thoughts I am sure are going through many of your heads right now —
I’m in $80,000 dollars in debt and my school can’t even afford a full grown human to give the commencement speech.
Is this some kind of scam or what!
No, but seriously…
I’d like to begin by repeating a few things I’m sure you’ve already heard…
Your education has been one big, huge, waste of time.
That you are all going into a dying industry!
Or how about this one — journalism is dead!
You’ve heard all of this, right?
And seriously, how can you blame people for thinking these things?
Everywhere we turn we see bad news about the news: like how people don’t buy newspapers anymore. It seems like everyday we are reading about another newspaper that had to close
And how the ones that have stayed open have had to slash their staffs.
And how the reporters who are left standing are all hacks.
Or Fake News.
A week doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t tell me I should find another job.
You know, one with a future.
And I’m only twelve — what does this mean for all of you old washed up twenty-somethings?
To the 2019 Graduating Class, you face a daunting task.
There will be those out there waiting for you to fail.
And others who believe you were doomed before even earning your first byline…
They are wrong.
There is another path…
But getting there won’t be easy.
As someone who has written hundreds of stories, exposed countless cases of corruption, and developed a devoted readership that spans all across the world — I have some ideas on how we can create a bridge to THAT future.
And if it’s okay I’d like to dispense a few of these little nuggets of reporting wisdom I’ve learned along the way now..
1) Keep your Ledes tight
If you are going to ask the people to dedicate even a sliver of their life to staring on their screen at the words you’ve written, you need to respect your reader.
See – words on screens are usually in shades of black on white, but life if full of bright colors.
There are amazing mysteries and stories all around us.
Life isn’t boring. Don’t let your writing be.
People are busy. And they don’t have a huge attention spans.
Get to the point. Let the facts tell the story. And most importantly, keep your ledes short.
Remember, if it is taking you two hundred words to get to the meat of your story — then no one, and I mean no one, is going to get to the desert, much less the main course.
2) Talk to Real People
Politicians and law enforcement can be great sources of information.
But my best stories never came from a press release — they came from biking down my main street, knocking on doors, and talking to the real people.
Who are the real people?
These are the small business owners. That group of old people who hang out at the coffee shop. Or just that nice neighbor man who is raking leaves.
It is here, buried in the nosey lady next door or at the church dinner, where the real nuggets of gold can be found.
Real people have real stories.
And if you take the time to listen, you would be amazed at what the real everyday people know.
3) Trust No One
Sometimes when working on a story you’ll confront two people telling you two different versions of the same event and you will be asking yourself, which person should I trust?
The answer; Don’t trust either of the people.
Even good people.
And sometimes without knowing it.
Sometimes cops lie.
Sometimes government officials lie.
And yes, sometimes even the everyday people lie.
That’s why it is important to have your loyalty NOT to any personalities but to the truth.
And only the truth.
Trust no one.
Follow the facts.
4) Get Away From Your Desk
So many reporters just sit at desks all day refreshing their emails or checking social media.
That sounds like death to me.
The best reporters I know aren’t waiting for the story to hit their inbox. They go find the story.
As publisher, editor, and the only reporter of the Orange Street News, I don’t have an assignment editor. I have to generate my own story ideas.
That is why after waking up everyday at 4:30 in morning the first thing I do is to go outside and run a mile.
I also try to be part of my community. I go to the local restaurants and shop at the local stores. I’m out there.
How can you report on a community from an office? That sounds like a fraud to me.
Don’t sit at a desk waiting for email tips or press releases. Get out into your community.
And I promise, the more time you spend exploring the world around you, the more the stories will find you.
5) Bring Pencils
Pens stop working when it gets cold outside.
I learned this one the hard way.
6) Remember YOUR Boss
After I was first to break the story of a murder in my hometown I was told by another reporter that they had the story too, but the police told them not to report it.
So they didn’t.
I was only nine — but seriously, I think I almost threw up in my mouth when I heard that.
I knew even at that age that a reporter doesn’t work for the police.
A reporter works for the people.
You are reporters.
You don’t work for the police.
You don’t work for the government.
You work for the people. And if you recognize that, the people will work for you.
7) Don’t Read the Comments
I admit, this one is hard.
We all want to see what people are saying about our work.
And I understand that most of you are going to ignore this advice, at least at first.
But trust me — Don’t read the comments.
They will only make you feel bad about yourself.
And bad about the world.
8) Don’t Forget Your Super Power
Reporting is about getting the truth to the people.
How do we get to the truth?
This isn’t complicated.
It’s the same way reporters have gotten to the truth for years.
By answering the six sacred questions of journalism– Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Look – everybody wants to change the world.
And a reporter is armed with the most persuasive tool in the world — the facts.
That is why a fair reporter can inspire far more change than even the best opinion columnist in the world.
Look — readers are smart. More often than not when given the right facts they will come to the right conclusions.
That’s the power of the truth. The power of facts.
And THAT is the REAL super power of a reporter.
Which leads me to my next point —
9) Don’t Mix Politics and Reporting —
Look — I believe the future has never been brighter for reporters.
Think about it. Has there ever been a time when more people wanted or needed the news more than at THIS very moment right now?
Because of the internet, people from all around the world can access information anytime and anywhere and all from the screen of their smartphone.
This isn’t a good thing.
This is a great thing.
Each one of these people is a potential subscriber to the Orange Street News.
Oh but I know what the skeptics all say, that newspapers might get online readers, but they don’t make money anymore.
To answer that claim, I’d like to point them to the only newspaper that exclusively serves the people of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.
I’m proud to say that the newspaper I’m the publisher of, the Orange Street News, DOES make a profit. And I do this while also publishing all my stories online for free and without accepting paid a single dollar in advertising. In fact, my print subscribers are enough for me to pay for all of my expenses including printing along with a few upgrades.
First, I keep my expenses low.
But most importantly, I never stop working to get good stories, and good scoops leads to new subscribers.
It isn’t complicated. I know that as soon as the Orange Street News stops getting exclusive stories that are important to the people, the people will stop buying the Orange Street News.
And I think that is how it should be.
But the skeptics aren’t all wrong.
See — there IS a crisis in media.
But it isn’t the shrinking newsrooms or losses in revenue.
The crisis we are facing, is one of trust.
See -too many people just don’t trust what they are reading anymore.
And if you are wondering how we got to this point, just look no further than the current generation of reporters.
Too many of them have strayed from the basics I knew by age six — that reporting was about finding answers to those six sacred questions.
Instead, too many of today’s reporters made a decision to start mixing their reporting with a kind of theater, a disgusting sort of political based entertainment that seeks to divide people along political party lines to fulfill whatever bias they might feel or maybe to generate page clicks or whatever.
Don’t believe me?
Pull up your favorite reporter’s Twitter account, spend two minutes going through their feed, and then ask yourself if the other fifty percent of the country who don’t agree with their political opinions are going to believe A SINGLE WORD of their reporting.
These so-called reporters spend so much time trying to persuade other people to think just like they do, but what they never understood is that by doing so they’ve become nothing but more noise.
See – by mixing their political opinions with their news they’ve created two different medias.
As a result, YOU are inheriting a world where people are increasingly only talking to themselves, or to those who already think the exact same way that they do.
And without new information, how can people grow?
That’s why I keep my political opinions to myself and am careful to report only facts.
I know that if I lose the trust of my readers, I might as well find another job.
But as long as I have that trust, I can keep growing.
And if you take this advice, so will you.
But these reporters who spent their time dividing us and not reporting facts aren’t the future.
They are about to be the past.
See — they are dinosaurs.
And they are all going extinct.
I say good riddance.
They’ve had their time. Its over.
WE are the generation that can restore the people’s trust.
See — we aren’t the pro-Trump reporters.
We aren’t the anti-Trump reporters.
We aren’t the left-wing reporters.
We aren’t the right-wing reporters.
We are the generation that will be known simply as…………REPORTERS.
That is a trust I guard with my life.
You should too.
And as you move forward, it will be your most important currency.
To the Class of 2019 —
Today is supposed to mark the beginning of a new life in the world, the beginning of your professional life…
It is up to each and every one of you to change that narrative.
To declare that we are the generation of reporters who will choose to have our loyalty to one thing and one thing only —to the truth.
To the facts.
To uncovering corruption — where ever we find it.
In just a few moments you will be graduating.
You are moments away from beginning this journey.
Moments away from embarking on the most noble of professions — that of reporter.
It will not be easy.
You will not make a lot of money.
And if you are good at your job, you will be despised by more people than you can possibly imagine.
But if you keep your ledes short, talk to real people, trust no one, get away from your desk, always bring a pencil, remember who you work for, ignore the comments, rise above the temptation to infuse your writing with politics, and most importantly of all, stay laser focused on the truth…
If you do these things, then I believe history will look back on this moment — not as the dark last days before the profession of journalism died —
But as new beginning…
When this generation..
The class of 2019, didn’t just save the news…but ushered in a new golden age of fact-based information that shined a light so bright it touched every corner of the globe.
A media based on truth.
On those six timeless questions..