Journalism Still Teaching Me How to Take a Stand

By | August 25, 2015

Calvin & Hobbs, by Bill Watterson

In my house, there were two styles of argument: loud and emotional, or quiet and belaboring. Neither ideal. (Calvin & Hobbs by Bill Watterson)

Growing up in a blue-collar, mixed-race family in Connecticut, I was exposed to two distinct styles of argument. My fiery paternal grandmother (a descendant of those witch-burning Salem, Massachusetts Puritans) was the type to declare her opinion on any and all topics, whether you asked for it or not. Shanahan family debates involved loud voices and harsh tones.

Meanwhile, my mother, an immigrant from the Philippines who worked as a medical technologist, did the opposite. The Filipinos in my family speak softly. They do not draw attention. They seem to win arguments through inexhaustible repetition of the same point. Most importantly, though, my mother warned me to never make a scene. Speaking up “too loud” could invite unwanted attention, and in the worst case scenario, bring shame upon me and my family.

What did I learn from these conflicting familial examples? For most of my life, I’ve avoided taking a stand with my own voice and my own convictions, as to not humiliate myself if I’m wrong or misinformed. That may be why I pursued a career as a journalist. I could pour the fire I inherited from my late grandmother into my work as a reporter, writer and editor. Journalism allows me to draw attention to the issues I find important through someone else’s voice and someone else’s experience, and do it in a way that intends to be fair and well-informed.

Now as a digital journalism professor at the University of Connecticut my chosen area of academic expertise is online commenting. I study how people exchange their opinions about news topics via computed mediated communication. But I, myself, never post comments on online news stories… except this one time.

I admit I anonymously submitted a comment at the bottom of this October 2013 Jezebel story about a Journal Inquirer editorial. The JI column had me fuming. Posting a comment, albeit anonymously, made me feel better.


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