Leutz: Don’t Bother
The powerless pen.
This year, the Class of 2022 will run just one lap around the Homecoming bonfire. As a member of that class, I was aiming to write a piece about why this is unjust, and how Dartmouth will quickly lose its identity if it ditches defining characteristics in the name of safety. Then I thought, why even bother? An opinion piece written by a freshman will be far from convincing to the officials of the town of Hanover, who have already made up their minds about the possible dangers of this tradition. This internal dialogue illustrates a much darker reality in the world beyond the Green.
If change is the weather, journalists are just weathermen. They report on it, prepare for it and even predict it. Much like weathermen, their predictions aren’t always correct, and much like weather, change can often only be accurately depicted from the rearview mirror. Just as weathermen do not make the weather, journalists do not directly make change. Weaving words, sentences and columns into stories, journalists materialize the feeling of being alive on this particular day into our newspapers. They have little impact on what it will feel like to be alive tomorrow. Their voices are heard, but in the face of power, talk can be cheap.
In our generation, even the most impactful pieces fall flat when it comes to creating change. One of the most famous of these, recounted in the Oscar Award Winning movie “Spotlight,” was a 2002 article in the Boston Globe that exposed the misconduct of countless Catholic priests who had molested children with little to no punishment. In July of 2018, Attorney General Josh Shapiro wrote a personal letter to Pope Francis regarding a new report on damning details of continued abuse by Catholic priests. Shapiro never received a response. The Globe published one of the most groundbreaking pieces of journalism of our time, and 16 years later, little has changed.
There are reasons, of course, why the journalists at the Globe were unable to change the practices of the church. First, whether you are a member of the church or not, it has proven itself, throughout history, to be a corrupt institution and thus extremely inelastic in its practices. Next, it is regulated overseas in Vatican City. Finally, the Globe released its piece on the Catholic Church in print, which is not quite the most consumed form of media in our time. Therefore, it is unfair to define the futility of journalism based on this one example.
American journalism couldn’t incite change in the church, but American journalists should at least be heard by their own government if they communicate with the public in a clear, accessible way, right? In the very same year that the Globe exposed the Catholic Church, legendary documentary director Michael Moore released “Bowling for Columbine.” This film, a far more accessible form of reporting in today’s age, explored the gun laws in this country and how they make America the perfect landscape for mass shootings like the one at Columbine. This past March, over one million Americans participated in the “March for our Lives,” pleading lawmakers to reform gun laws that have been stagnant in the wake of many more mass shootings.
As a nation, these have been two of our most impactful pieces of journalism, yet 16 years later we are still searching for change while children get shot at school and assaulted at church. Granted, change cannot be expected overnight, but pieces of such power should have been a wakeup call — and certainly not one with a 16-year snooze button.
As a journalist obsessed with words, sentences, columns and the chatter that comes along with this industry, I somberly accept the ironic reality that in the process of change, my work has little tangible impact. As an American citizen, however, I believe that not all hope is lost. Where words have failed us, votes will not. While the number of laps that this year’s freshman class is allowed to take around the bonfire will never be put to a vote, decisions made by our nation’s policy makers will. Just as weathermen tell us the forecast, journalists are tasked with creating awareness on major issues — not precipitating progress to solve them. Change, should we see it necessary, is our civic duty as citizens of democracy.