Personal update: I am a White House Correspondents’ Scholar!

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Hi, everyone! I am incredibly excited to announce that I have been selected as a White House Correspondents’ Scholar. I will be awarded a scholarship in addition to attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in the last week of April. Read more about the White House Correspondents’ Association here.

Below, I am attaching my essay for the scholars program about the relationship between democracy and the press. Thank you for your support!

I cried the first time I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

I stood in awe beneath the towering building, eyes hungrily devouring the words the basis of my career revolves on: “freedom of the press.” I’ve read those words over and over — and I even have them tattooed on my forearm alongside a newspaper — but there was something about seeing the First Amendment etched into stone in the most important city in the free world that made me tear up with pride. It seems fitting: the foreground to a picturesque backdrop of the Capitol building, where the highest elected officials in the country gather to make decisions that will influence everyone in the nation.

This prompt was one that could be easy for me to delve into a long-winded rant about the beauty of democracy and its relationship with the press. But the fact is: democracy is messy. Putting citizens in charge of governing themselves is a daunting task, especially when some officials seem to have their own agendas and motivations. It’s our job as the press to not only show shining moments in American history, but to show the side of our country that falls short.

When I interned in Asia, I read “I Am Malala.” I was shocked by the story of a teenage Pakistani girl shot in the head for publishing autobiographical works detailing the brutality of the Taliban for the United Nations. But in all actuality, the rest of the Western world might not be as progressive as we think. While studying language and media in France, I found that although the democratic system found in Europe was more allowing of free expression, there were still heavy restrictions on rights we would find in the United States. French Muslim women are not allowed to wear burkas in public. It is illegal in 16 European countries to deny the Holocaust ever happens (which as terrible as it may sound that I’m advocating for that, limiting any speech or thoughts, so long as it is not directly violent and hateful, threatens all speech).

“Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in France the way it does back home for you,” my professor, a Moroccan journalist jailed for writing pieces that disrespected the monarch, told us in class.

It’s true that our country is different. “Freedom of the press” are some of the first words our Founding Fathers penned into the documents that define the fabric of our democracy. Along with that right comes incredible responsibility and a duty to inform the public freely and honestly without external motivation and fear of government retaliation.

The press is a direct reflection of health and livelihood of a working democracy. Where journalism falls short, as does democracy and vice versa. History is chock-full of authoritarian rulers who recognize the danger of the press to their questionable or unethical leadership tactics, which is why they often defame journalists in the harshest ways. Stalin once called newspaper the “enemy of the people” — a term the current U.S. president has used on many occasions. Journalists recognize the danger that language poses: I was so proud when 350 newspapers nationwide banded together to push back on Trump’s war on the media. It takes bravery to publish the truth, even when public opinion or leaders are adamantly against us.

It takes courageous reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who are willing to face public ridicule and government pressure to uncover major corruption in the most powerful office in the country. It takes emboldened editors like Ben Bradlee to make the decision to publish the tumultuous findings of the Pentagon Papers. It takes opinion writers like Nicholas Kristof to take us on a journey to far-away places to discuss humanitarian atrocities and foreign policy.

Since the existence of power dynamics, so existed the potential for corrupt leaders to manipulate, misinform and instill fear in their constituents. While power grabs seem to be a part of human nature, fortunately, so is curiosity. I’ve dedicated my life to that curiosity and craft. I proudly announce to the world that I am a reporter: someone who is willing to face public ridicule from even some of the most powerful people in our country to serve the citizen and unveil the truth.

Now more than ever, when misinformation and “fake news” clouds social media and the mouths of politicians, our work is crucial to an informed public and a working democracy. I want to be a guiding light of truth through my work with real and genuine news. I’ve studied foreign policy and language in Asia and Europe. I’ve worked in the state’s capital covering news for The Columbus Dispatch. Now I’m eager for the opportunity to go to our nation’s pulse, where the country’s most influential political reporters gather.

Thank you for your consideration.

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