Are student's ideals naive?


That’s it. 2009 is over, and with it, the first decade of the millennium. We’re re all probably coming up with new resolutions. Some of us may even have a plan as to how to carry these out. This year will for sure be different, we tell ourselves, if nobody else, although it’d probably make a lot more sense to tell everybody else—shame and fear of failure are powerful motivators.

But it’s not 2010 I want to talk about. Neither do I want to talk about resolutions. I want to talk, if only in passing, about privacy, about media, and about marital infidelity. I want to talk, again in passing, about Tiger Woods, but mostly I want to talk about life after university and how it will transform us students.

The whole Tiger Woods episode revolted me. Not because he cheated on his wife. That’s between him and her. It revolted me because everyone wanted to know about it. Mostly, it revolted me because the media happily obliged. Or perhaps it was the other way around: Not too many people wanted to know about it, but the media still ran with it and inflated it and made everyone aware of it, including those of us who believe that even celebrities have a right to privacy. Either way, the media’s massive coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal upset me. Sure, I understand why they did it, especially in these days of dwindling newspaper sales and with a media revolution rumbling in the horizon: They did it because they want to sell. They did it because they want to survive, but in order to survive, they may have become whores.  I, on the other hand, don’t t have to worry about sales—at least not as much as your average paper does. This week, for example, we ran a story about Tiger Woods, and in it we mentioned, however briefly, the scandal that has afflicted him and his family. We had to, because the article dealt with the money he’s cost his investors. But we included no juicy details or allegations or irrelevant names. It’s a fine line, to be sure, the one that divides your principles and real life. I think, though, this time, we managed to remain on the good side.

In the last day of my Journalistic Investigation class, just a few weeks ago, my professor held a newspaper cover page with a close up of a man. He’d been attacked by a pit bull and was missing half his face. This man had gone to the newspaper and asked for his picture to be printed. He said he wanted everyone to be aware of what could happen to them. The professor asked us, “If you were professional newspapermen, would you have agreed?” I said I would, if only to honour the man’s courage, adding that I’d rather quit than print that picture without his consent. Other students disagreed, arguing that publishing the picture would likely disturb readers. All our reasons were altruistic. None had anything to do sales, which is probably the most determining factor that decides what ends up splashed across a front page of other newspapers.

At the end of the class, the professor said, that it would be nice if we could all maintain that integrity. I don’t know if she was optimistic. I know I’m not. At the time, I meant what I said about quitting my job, but would I really do it? If I was working for a big paper or a TV station, making decent money, making my way up, would I quit over a principle?

For that matter, would the students who now denounce corporate greed decline a job offer from, say, Nike? Would those who claim to protect the environment refuse to work for GM?

Being aware of the possibility of  betraying my principles may seem to indicate I’m already willing to betray them. I like to think the opposite. Being aware of this possibility, I hope, means I’m ready to recognize the risks, the signs, and steer away from them.
Or not. We shall see.