Writing just won't let you go: a profile of Katherine Nichols

KRN portrait For the past 20 years, Katherine Nichols has worked, in some way or another, as a writer.  Whether that means working as a print journalist or hosting a TV feature or, finally, penning the nonfiction book for teens DEEP WATER, Katherine has felt the pull of writing on her life.

"Though I have gone in other directions, I keep returning to writing because I love the challenge, the perpetual opportunity for learning and improvement," she said. "But it never gets easier. So perhaps a more honest answer is that it won’t let me go."

When she was a young girl, Katherine made mini-books out of construction paper. She describes these early literary pursuits as "average stories and terrible illustrations," but with typical childlike aplomb, she demanded an audience of her family members.

In addition, like so many other writers, Katherine was a reader. As a child, her parents not only read aloud to her, but modeled the life of a reader by being avid consumers of the written word themselves.

In school, Katherine felt herself drawn to English classes. "I found them so enjoyable that I would save the homework for last," she said, "as a reward after finishing math and chemistry and biology."

Partly out of the necessity of having a steady paycheck, Katherine turned to journalism, saying, "If you’re not a bestselling author, it’s tough to make a living from fiction. Journalism jobs and assignments came more easily to me."

But her choice of this career isn't entirely pragmatic, though that is of course a big part. She said she's a naturally curious person who enjoyed that journalism allowed her to learn about others, in essence to have a brand-new education in a new field almost every day.

Plus, there was the added benefit of being able to help someone with her stories. Early in her career, she published a story about a young man who, after a car accident, became a quadriplegic. He taught himself to paint by holding the brush in his teeth, and Katherine's feature on him was published by the San Diego Union.

"It ... brought attention to his work," she said. "The idea that I could do something positive by telling someone else’s story inspired me."

Fireside Chat Reminder copy

Katherine's debut book, DEEP WATER, released May 2 from Simon True, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, tells the story of a group of young men from Coronado, California, who during the summer of 1971 begin a drug-smuggling business that turns into a booming, $100 million endeavour. The catch? They are all athletes who swim the drug packages across the border.

It's an intriguing story, and one that Katherine was familiar with as someone who grew up in Coronado.

"Growing up [in] the small beach town and graduating from the same high school gave the narrative an insider’s perspective," she said.

Although she originally planned to fictionalize the tale of the Coronado Company, Katherine ended up writing it as a nonfiction book after Simon True approached her with the idea.

In speaking about the experience of writing the book, Katherine acknowledged that there was something freeing in writing about criminals (with the caveat that they were non-violent ones).

"It was rewarding to transcend that judgment, to find other ways to connect with their experiences," she said. "Because we are all human beings with needs, desires, strengths, and flaws that influence our choices. Who among us has not made a mistake with potentially serious consequences?"

DEEP WATER can be purchased on Amazon and more information about the book can be found on Facebook. Feel free to check out Katherine's website or follower her on Twitter to stay up to date with her writing.

I will always fight for journalism

After 23 years of making pronouncements and then changing my mind, I know a little better than to say, "I'll never be a journalist." Because I also said, "I'll never not be a journalist," and, well, my pizza-slinging uniform begs to differ on that count. 10405327_10152565449759884_2885326472995272677_n

However, as things stand right now, it looks like journalism isn't my calling. For personal reasons — like my intense need to be loved, my desire to just write building-up pieces and my severe depression — and professional ones — like the fact that I'm actually not the greatest at in-depth reporting and would rather write positive stories anyway — I'm not sure I could be a good journalist.

Or at least, not the journalist I'd want to be; see, I'd want to be an investigative or political reporter, someone who is a watchdog for government and holds powerful people accountable.

But I'm not great at that. So I'm moving on to exploring other communication fields, like running social media or doing PR or just writing novels and slinging pizza on the side.

That doesn't mean that I don't think journalism is one of the most important things for the world right now. And it doesn't mean I won't fight, tooth, nail and foot-to-the-groin for freedom of the press and for journalistic respect.

In today's New York Times, Helene Cooper wrote this sentence in her front-page article:

What appeared to rattle people the most about Mr. Trump’s news conference on Thursday were his attacks on members of the news media assembled before him. Several diplomats said they worried that Mr. Trump was trying to discredit a tenet of American democracy — a free press — and in so doing, might embolden despots around the world into further challenges to freedom of the press.

"Trump Aides Try to Reassure Europe, but Many Are Wary"

That's telling. It means it's not just reporters (or j-school sort-of students) who believe in the importance of the press; literal world leaders are terrified because they've seen what happens to democracies when the press is muzzled.

There's a reason the First Amendment was the first to be amended, you know? Because it's so vitally important.

I may sound like I'm writing a j-school application essay (which I wrote so many of, you guys...so many) when I say that a free press is fundamental — fundamental, people — to a free country.

It is vital that we have a body of people dedicated to overseeing government's actions. Just this week we had a beautiful example of what happens when the press does its job. Michael Flynn literally resigned because The Washington Post made it clear that he was lying and it was being covered up, and President T. was no longer able to keep lying.

The work the Post did was absolutely essential. Importantly, it was done in service of the American public — a.k.a., not the work of the "enemy" of the American people, as President T. tried to say the press was.

You know who thinks the press is the enemy? People who have something to hide. You know who can't be trusted? People who have something to hide.

So yes, I might not be a journalist myself in the future. But my years as a student journalist and my most-of-a master's degree in the field have done nothing but reinforce in my mind the idea that this is a very important field; a necessary career; a calling for many.

And I'm standing here to say: I support the press. I'll do everything in my power to make sure it stays free and accessible. Yesterday, that meant financially supporting the New York Times.

That link takes you to a donation page that's a nice, double-edged sword: gives money to the newspaper and provides a young'un with a subscription, so they can stay informed and we can raise up a new generation to value and respect the press.

Most days I can't give money; so I tweet links and spread the news. I follow journalists and know their names because they deserve that small ounce of respect. And I won't stand by silently if President T. tries to do anything — anything — to diminish the freedom of the press.

Because it's so doggone important, guys.

A promise to keep on

11231036_10206439186115425_7479951697701760541_n-2 For so long, I wanted nothing more than to go to grad school for journalism in New York City.

I worked my butt off to perfect my applications so I would get accepted to Columbia, CUNY or NYU. I took my personal essays and rewrote them tons of times, each time filled with even more dread and anxiety.

And then I waited for several months, heart in my throat, for the response. I vacillated between certainty that I would get in and the absolute knowledge that I would be rejected from every single one of my dream schools.

Until the emails started coming in: CUNY, yes; NYU, yes; Columbia, yes.

I cried. My dreams were coming true. Within a few months, I accepted NYU's offer of admission, packed my belongings into a bunch of boxes and drove from South Carolina to New York City.

My dream was coming true.

And now I don't know how to go forward.

Because I don't know if I can do this, after all. I don't know how to be unafraid, how to go after a story like a hound dog and not care who gets in the way.

I'm terrified, every night, of failing. I'm filled with anxiety, wondering if this is really what I'm supposed to do with my life. Perhaps I'm better suited to a simpler life, a life with fewer hardships and less angst.

I got into journalism because I wanted to tell stories. OK, that's not exactly true. I got into journalism because I liked writing and wanted another avenue; and the more I learned about it, the more I got into it, the more I discovered the possibilities. Journalism offers a chance to tell people's stories when they can't do it themselves, to give hope sometimes and yes, to uncover injustice and lies and generally bad things.

The longer I spent studying journalism, the more passionate I became. My first "real-world" work experience was at the Sochi Winter Olympics, when I spent nine days putting together video packages with other students. As hard as that experience was, as many blisters as I got and as many late nights as I lived through, I would have stayed for weeks and weeks longer.

Then I did a summer internship, and that just set my passion into stone. I got to cover events and tell stories of incredible people and that's when I knew, that's when I knew for sure, that I was going to pursue this for the rest of my life.

And now I don't know. Now I'm living my dream and facing the prospect of that all coming to naught. Because what if my fear is going to keep me from doing this job? What if my instinct to believe people when they say what they're doing is good will actually keep me from being great at the job I've dreamed of for so many years?

What if I'm standing in my own way?

Maybe I should have just kept to creative writing. I shouldn't have gotten into such a demanding, high-pressure field.

Maybe this is why The New York Times keeps rejecting my internship applications: they sense, in the way that I can't, that I'm not suited for this career. They've seen through the facade and understand that I'm not going to add anything to their newsroom, because I have nothing to add.

I'm in the midst of an identity crisis. For the past four years, I've been a journalist. Sometimes a student journalist, sometimes an intern and sometimes a freelance journalist, but always a journalist. I don't know who I am if I'm not that anymore.

More importantly, I don't want to give it up. This is what I'm passionate about. I mean, I've dreamed of this for such a long time! I want nothing more than to be a successful journalist living in New York City.

I know the field is hard, and the city is hard, and the person I am today is too weak and untested to survive either.

But I'm not willing to give up my dream just yet. I'm not willing to let a few blows knock me out completely.

I will keep pursuing this career as long as I can, until I'm bloody on the ground and unable to get back up. I will fight to be Karis Rogerson, journalist extraordinaire. Nothing can keep me down.

This is my dream. I'm scared of continuing to pursue it, but for once in my life, I'm not going to let my fears keep me down.

Resolute in 2016

Despite myself, I've fallen into the belief that today marks the beginning of a grand new life, of a great adventure, a brilliant re-imagining of myself. By Dec. 31, 2016, I'll be a new woman, an accomplished woman, an everything-is-right-in-the-world woman. 22940364744_f22f58c216_o

There's this part of me that believes that and this part of me that doesn't. But today, on the first day of the new year, I'm letting the part of me that believes take over. I'm writing resolutions and swearing to follow them through and hoping that in 365 days, I will be everything I am not today.

Most of my resolutions are writing-based, because as great as 2015 was for my journalistic career (getting into grad school, having my first full-time internship, becoming a freelancer at The Mix and blogging for I Am Second), I still have so many unfulfilled writing dreams.

I mean, I want to be a [published] novelist! I want to be a [published] poet! I want to be a [prolific] essayist! And I want an internship in New York City for this summer.

With that in mind, here is a snippet of my 2016 writing resolutions — I'm posting publicly to be held accountable publicly. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a prolific, writing-filled, exciting 2016!

  1. Write one poem every day. So far, I'm batting 100 on this one. That's right, it might only be partway through Jan. 1, but I've already logged one poem for 2016. It can only get better from here!
  2. Write one short essay every week In my Personal Essay class last semester, we did these 20-minute writing exercises that resulted in three fairly well-developed pieces I'm trying to publish. My goal is to do that every week this year: sit down with an idea and a timer set for 20 minutes, and just write. By the end, I should have 52 short essays I can try to publish!
  3. Write one long essay per month Again in said class, we worked on longer, reported essays. They were written in the first person and I got to add my personal flair to them, but they involved research and a whole lot of thought. I want to write one of these essays per month. ***This will most likely be the toughest resolution to stick to, so I'm counting on you to help me! I want to get started within the first three days of every month, so badger me about it!
  4. Finish two novels and do NaNoWriMo This sounds like a handful, but remember, I'm already 100 pages into one of the novels I'm planning on writing — The Langone Five — so I just have to finish it during the semester, write another one during the summer, and then do NaNo in November. Piece of cake, am I right? *laughs wildly, then cries*
  5. GET AN AGENT This is the big one. This is the one that's partially out of my control. THIS IS THE ONE I DESPERATELY, DESPERATELY WANT TO SEE COME TO FRUITION. I've been dreaming of getting a literary agent since July 2014, and I've been querying and writing and revising and querying and waiting and praying and hoping and — you get the picture. I really need an agent to pursue my dream of being a published novelist. 

So there you have it. Five writing goals for 2016. Oh, and meanwhile, I'll finish grad school, work part-time, intern and be involved at church. It's gonna be a crazy year, guys, but it's gonna be great. I'm so excited to see what comes of it!

Here's hoping 2016 is full of nothing but good things and dreams come true. I'm letting myself go wild and fully believe that today can be the beginning of a new phase — the start of something new, if you will.

 

My first post for I Am Second

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd be changing things up on the blog. This is the first of the short announcements I'm going to be making here: I've begun writing for I Am Second. I was approached by their editor after I had my article published by Seventeen about the possibility of writing some blog posts about depression for them. Of course, I said yes.

I've never wanted to have a career in Christian publication, but I also always said that if I had the opportunity to do something on the side, to write from a faith perspective for an established publication, I would take that opportunity.

So when I Am Second approached me with this opportunity, of course I said yes.

Here you can find the first in a series of articles I'm writing about depression for them. I'm super excited about this opportunity and can't wait to write more for them and see where it goes!

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Lessons from publication in Seventeen

Last Friday was a big day for me: I had an article published by a mainstream media outlet. It felt bigger than USA Today, bigger than anything I've done before. Last Friday, I had an article published by Seventeen.

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This was a huge occasion for me, career-wise and as far as personal development goes. The "career-wise" benefit seems like something I hardly need to explain (so I won't), but let's talk a little about personal development.

The article was about a friendship I had that was lost due to my depression. And through writing the article, I was able to finally come to terms with this. I feel like I've been freed from a burden of hatred that I carried around for three years.

And it was arguably the most personal thing I've had published by a mainstream media outlet. Of course I write very personally here on the blog, but that's neither sanctioned nor publicized by editors at big-name magazines. This was. It felt like a stamp of approval from someone in the know, not only of my experiences but also of my writing.

Which feels so good to have. To know that media professionals read what I had to say and liked what I said and how I said it. That feels great.

But I've learned a few lessons that were harder to swallow, as well. As you might notice if you Google me or look on Wikipedia, I'm not famous.The fact that I don't have my own Wikipedia page is a constant source of horror for me. I wrote an essay for class recently about my long-held desire of being famous, and in it I explored all the reasons why I crave fame.

This article did not bring me instant fame. It did not initiate a flood of new Twitter and Facebook followers or indicate the start of the cult of Karis. It had more than 10,000 views (holla), which is nothing to sneeze at (thank you Kiley of Girl-ish for getting that phrase stuck in my head), but none of those 10,000+ people decided that their lives would be better off by following me.

I wrote last week about how I've learned that opportunity is hard to come by. It seems that success as a well-known and regarded writer is the same way. One article in Seventeen will not an award-winning writer make. I still have to work really hard, every day, to improve and receive recognition.

Which isn't necessarily something I'm mad about. I mean, sure, I hate working hard and wish I could just snap my fingers and have a book, bound and covered, at my fingertips. But this isn't a fantasy world we're living in. There is no magic and there are no free passes. There is only hard work and, occasionally, having that hard work pay off.

I'm really excited about where my writing journey will take me. Already it's gone in unexpected places. I did not think that coming to grad school in New York would open the door to publication by Seventeen magazine, but so it was. And already that has opened the door for a possible new writing opportunity that will allow me to share my experiences as well as what God is doing with my life — for a publication that, while not necessarily "mainstream media," does have a Wikipedia page. Which is more than I can say for myself at the moment.

I'm excited about the novel I'm working on for NaNoWriMo. I'm woefully behind, but I'm excited about finishing The Langone Five. And after that, I get to edit My Mom's a Killer and maybe start sending out query letters.

I'm excited about poetry, the art of writing personally yet beautifully.

I'm excited about personal essays, about combining reporting with things I'm passionate about and writing from the heart.

And I'm excited about good, old-fashioned third-person reporting, telling people's stories without letting myself get in the way.

In short, after being published by Seventeen I've learned that yes, writing is where my heart is. Writing is something that makes my soul sing, and I can't wait to continue on the journey, climbing the torturously high ladder to reach success. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get to enjoy the ride.

 

 

My three month-aversary with #NYC

Three months ago today, I sat in the back of my parents' car and drove into New York City. My stomach was in knots, and I couldn't get rid of the nagging thought that demanded, What the heck do you think you're doing? For the first time since mid-2014, when I started planning my applications to grad schools in New York, I was petrified. What if this was a mistake?

We pulled up to my new home and I jumped out of the car, running up the front steps to grab my key. And the picture happened.

I've used this photo before ... but oh, well. Photo by Becky Rogerson.

The first 24 hours seemed to last forever. But here I am, suddenly, three months later, and I'm not sure where the time went.

Oh, of course, I could think about it and figure it out.

On a visit to Photoville early in the semester. Photo by Liz Arakelian.

The time passed with dinner cruises with fellow NYU students, with first projects and tears and victories, with visits to Photoville and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. It passed with constant dreaming and some nightmares.

The time passed with a week-long hospital stay and a weekend in Baltimore. It passed with evenings with classmates and church friends. It passed with making friends and a life for myself.

Time passed with starting a new job tutoring second graders and getting published by Seventeen.

Time passed.

And here I am, three months later, and it wasn't what I expected. Every day hasn't been filled with Instagram-worthy moments of city perfection. Of course there have been some — fall in the city is breathtaking, and even way out in residential Queens the red, yellow and orange of the leaves have been glorious. But there have also been a lot of evenings spent at home with Netflix and pizza.

I thought I would be partying every night, in the city with friends and constant excitement. I thought my life would be like "Friends." "How I Met Your Mother" and "Castle," full of quirky incidents, opportunities and cute guys.

It hasn't been like that. It's been so much more chill. Of course there have been opportunities. I never would have gotten an article published by Seventeen if I hadn't been at NYU. I wouldn't have gotten to go to Baltimore to write about community women doing leadership.

All this to say — my dreams came true. I moved to New York, and I've been here for three months. It's not what I expected; it's better.

"Spotlight," or, the movie that explains my passion for journalism

I was only 8 when the events of the movie "Spotlight," set for general release this Friday, took place, which explains why I have no memory of a world in which the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandal was not common knowledge. Lots of people do, and they can appreciate their actions even more.  For those of you who don't know, "Spotlight" is based on the true story of the team of Boston Globe reporters who broke the news that some Catholic priests were sexually abusing children, while others were hiding that truth. I, and the rest of NYU's journalism students, was invited to a special free screening of the movie this evening. And this isn't a review of the movie; I don't know enough to accurately do that. This is a story about how that movie exemplifies everything that I want out of journalism.

I laughed, cried, clenched my fists and occasionally went into spasms of excitement during the movie because there, on the big screen, my people were being depicted as heroes. For once, entertainment showed reporters as good guys, and that was exhilarating. (I will never understand the man in the row in front of me who snored his way through that thrilling depiction of journalistic prowess. I don't know who you are, sleeping dude, but know that you do not have my respect.)

I got into journalism because I realized that there are people in the world, people in power, who want to do bad things and hide them. 

There are people hurting other people and getting away with it, and that is. Not. Ok. With me. 

The reporting done by the Boston Globe team, Spotlight, (a special group of investigative reporters the size of the entire staff at my summer internship paper) is the kind I dream of doing. The kind I do in the far reaches of my mind, where I am far braver and more assertive than I am in real life. 

Specifically, Mark Ruffalo (dearest Bruce Banner, of course), whose character, Mike of the last name I can't spell, who isn't afraid to make a nuisance of himself in order to get someone to talk to him.

You see, I long to someday storm into someone's office, tell them what's going on, and not be afraid that they won't like me. But I'm such a people pleaser. I haven't managed to overcome the mental block that having people like me is the highest goal.

It isn't. Telling the truth and being true to the calling God has placed on my life are far higher goals. It doesn't matter if I'm telling the story of a minor gas leak or a titanic scandal like this one - I must endeavor to research, report, dig deep and uncover the truth. I owe it to people to do that. 

I've always loved that journalists can be "voices for the voiceless," because we have the skills and the ability to tell someone's story when they can't tell it themselves. I think it's one of the most important things we can do.

But it takes courage to do that, a fearlessness that I haven't yet developed. Before moving to New York, I didn't realize how much of a scaredy cat I am. I thought that because I'd fought my school administration, talked to Madisonville's mayor and mastered the art of "man on the street" at Asbury, I'd become brave.

I was wrong. I'm filled with terror every time I have to do a story. But I'm doing the stories. I'm gathering my courage, and I'm not giving up, because someday I want to do for the world what Spotlight did: I want to change it.

I said when I came to this city that I did it because I had no other choice; that's true as well of why I'm pursuing journalism. Watching this movie, I felt compelled to go out there and chase the stories, uncover the secrets, tell the truth. It terrified me to think of doing what those characters were doing. But it terrified me even more to think of not doing it.

Of course it would be nice someday to win a Pulitzer, like the Boston Globe journalists did, to have Rachel McAdams play me in a movie and the world acknowledge what I did. It would be even nicer, though, to know I did right, that I helped others and was right.

I'm still obsessed with New York

You live here now, Karis. You don't need to keep reading articles about why New York is the best city in the world and wish you were there. You're here. I don't know how many times I've told myself that over the past six weeks. It happens as I'm scrolling through my Instagram feed and catch a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, when I'm watching Castle and the scene is his insane apartment or when I click on an article giving advice for how to be a true New Yorker.

Every time this happens, I feel a pang in my heart and think, Wow, I wish I were there. I've been doing it for years.

The only difference is that now, I am here.

I ride the subway across the Williamsburg Bridge every day, go to school mere blocks from Washington Square Park and am often just a short walk from sights like the Flatiron Building and Bryant Park.

I've taken the Staten Island Ferry, wandered Little Italy — in both Manhattan and the Bronx — traipsed through Brooklyn's picturesque residential streets and familiarized myself with the cheap delis in Queens.

There is no way to count the number of germs I've collected on the subway, I've consumed countless cheap slices of pizza and diner hamburgers and I've had a nighttime walk through the Battery Park City (where, dude, I would so live one day).

And those aren't the only things that make up my New York experience. Other factors include approaching strangers on a packed sidewalk and asking them about the pope; emailing a woman I spoke to briefly at a festival to see if I can do an in-depth story on her; having stories published and rejected; and live-tweeting the CNN GOP Debate before putting together a Storify of it.

I've made friends with the 13 other students in my program. We go out to lunch together and treat each other like siblings. We have a group Facebook message that's filled with plans to meet up, questions about assignments and, yes, full-on panic about what we're going to do and why we're here. I've had the equivalent of counseling sessions with several classmates — where I was both the counselor and the patient, at different times.

In the short time I've been in NYC, I've grown into a whole new person. I walk about five miles a day. I approach strangers in the biggest, most diverse city I know of, and ask to video them. I navigate the subway with ease. I am both more scared to be a journalist and much more confident in my calling.

Most importantly, I wake up every morning knowing that no matter what happens, no matter where I get thrown or what uncomfortable situations I'm in, every experience is making me stronger. I'm becoming a better friend, a better writer and a better city-dweller.

I'm overwhelmed. This is the city I live in, guys:

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I mean, seriously, what? How did this happen?

I don't know by what measure I was allowed to be blessed in such a way. But man, am I going to enjoy it. Every minute. Even the ones where I'm terrified, where I'm lonely, where I'm uncomfortable ... even those.

When the story doesn't pan out, and the value of reader trust

The 89th annual feast of San Gennaro is currently taking place in Little Italy. As a pseudo-Italian myself, I knew I wanted to at the very least make an appearance. And because one of my grad school assignments involves weekly stories based off of New York City events, I decided to combine my two loves and write a story about the feast.

The entrance to the feast, on Mulberry Street.

So on Thursday after class, my friend Leann and I headed downtown and spent two hours wandering the streets of Little Italy, talking to vendors and residents and, in Leann's case, attracting the interest of all the eager Italian boys.

The sign welcoming visitors to the feast.

I spoke to 10 different people and gathered a hodgepodge of views on the festival as well as Little Italy itself. I thought it was going to be a great story, one that highlighted how gentrification had changed the culture of the once-tightknit community and even altered people's perceptions of the feast. There was just one problem: the residents and vendors who spoke negatively of the area refused to give me their names.

I guess they were scared. I get that. And in my eagerness to write the story, I forgot one important rule: we can only quote anonymous sources under mitigating circumstances.

So I wrote my story and sent it to my professor.

It didn't go over well. The story, it turned out, was a flop. Worse: there was no story, not without someone being willing to come forward and put their name to their words.

There's something terribly discouraging about realizing that you've failed in your reporting. Not that I think there was anything more I could have done — I bartered with my sources, but both refused to give full names, and nobody else seemed willing to speak disparagingly of the event. But it's still a disappointment to feel like you have a story at your fingertips and have to let it go.

But I understand why that's what had to happen. It's one of the basic rules of journalism: honesty and transparency. If I don't let my readers know where my facts are coming from, how can they trust that I'm not just making them up?

Earlier this week, I spent a long time researching Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who was fired in 2003 for fabricating quotes and stories. What he did was wrong not just because he failed his employers, but because he failed his readers. He presented as truth something that was, in fact, falsehood.

As journalists, all we have is the perception that our word is good, that it's worth something. If we lose that, well ... we have nothing.

So as hard as it was to let go of my story, I knew I had to do it. Not just because my professor told me to (although of course I do like to follow my teachers' instructions, on account of them being smarter than me and all that), but because I don't want to start my journalism career on unstable ground.

I want to be the kind of journalist that people trust.

I want to be someone sources have no fear entrusting their names to, knowing that I have great respect for the privilege they are affording me and that I will do everything in my power to protect them.

But I also want to be someone readers believe in, someone whose words matter. I want to be the kind of reporter who is so honest and open about where my information comes from that, if I ever do have to hide a source, people will know it's for a good reason, and believe that what I say is truth.

As I've mentioned before, I'm incredibly passionate about the role of journalism in society. I honestly think it's one of those things that has to exist, because people need to be able to trust someone to tell them the truth no matter what. And I don't want to do anything to jeopardize having that future.

It's a bit of an ego-killer to not get a story published, especially after my first story turned out well. It feels like I'm slipping backwards instead of surging forward. But it made me realize I have to decide what I value more: getting published, or being trustworthy.

I think I'll choose the latter.

Exploring 9/11 as a journalist

I honestly didn't think I would make it. No joke.

I got to school on Thursday morning, as a 22-year-old graduate student, and hid in the bathroom crying because I was so petrified that I would fail my first assignment.

You see, the 13 other Reporting the Nation/New York students and I had to make our way down to ground zero on Friday and find a story relating to the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that affected not only America but also the rest of the world in an irreparable way.

And as of Thursday morning, I had no idea what I was going to do.

So I didn't think I would make it. Every possible negative thought and emotion filled me and convinced me that I was going to fail out of grad school in less than a week. Grad school! That thing I've been dreaming of for the past year, that was supposed to send me on my way into a great journalistic career.

Yet by some miracle, I managed to drag myself out of bed yesterday  morning, throw on some clothes, and make my way downtown. I met up with some of my classmates at a Burger King near ground zero and we anxiously stared at the crowds of tourists and NYPD officers filling the sidewalk in front of us. Of all the days to work on our first assignment, I thought...

Sept. 11, 2001 literally changed the face of the earth. It was one of the biggest events in modern history. And 9/11 is not an anniversary I've ever felt compelled to take lightly. I was worried that the people I approached would think I was some sort of callous, opportunistic journalist trying to capitalize on a tragedy in order to publish a story. I had this fear that I would get yelled at in public and accused of being heartless.

What I really wanted to accomplish yesterday was paint a truthful picture of 9/11 today. I wanted to explore how the events from 14 years ago are still affecting modern-day Americans. I wondered, do we still treat the anniversary with the same sense of respect and horror that we did in 2002, or have 14 years been enough to help us forget?

IMG_0017Despite all my misgivings, I eventually left that Burger King and started approaching people. Century 21 had set up a mural on Church Street, just a few blocks from the memorial, where passersby were encouraged to leave messages in honor of lost ones (seen to the right). It provided an excellent way to meet people and talk to them about what 9/11 means to them.

Although I didn't have a story in mind when I started asking people to talk to me, I quickly found some similarities within the interviews. People expressed a sense of pride and patriotism toward their country as well as frustration with how the atmosphere on 9/11 has changed — a feeling that many have forgotten just what those numbers mean and have moved on with their lives to the point that the anniversary of the Twin Towers falling is just another day.

After a quick lunch with classmates, I went back to school and wrote my story. It shares the opinions of three annual visitors of the memorial on what 9/11 means and how the tragedy has made America stronger.

I don't think I'll ever say that yesterday was "fun." As far as stories I've told, it's not one that I enjoyed researching and writing. But, just as my sources believe 9/11 has made America stronger, I believe this experience made me a better writer and a more fearless reporter.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what other people think of me or what motives they ascribe to my work. All that matters is that I approach every article as an opportunity to tell someone's story and not an opportunity to advance my own career. I think if I ever reach the day that I care more about selling a story and attracting readers than I do helping someone find their voice, I'll know that I've failed.

I'm officially a graduate student

Well, I had my first class as a grad student this week! On Thursday I woke up bright and early and caught an 8 a.m. train downtown. And because I'm me, I checked my watch approximately 5,000 times on the way, terrified that I was going to be late. When the time came to transfer trains, I elbowed my way through the crowd, oblivious to who I was throwing out of my way, and jumped onto the "6" train just in time.

Taisha Henry took this creeper shot of the class.

To my great pleasure, the class, "First Amendment Law," is comprised entirely of fellow "Reporting the Nation/New York" students. It looks like it's shaping up to be a lively discussion-based class, which of course is super exciting. And don't let the name fool you; apparently, we'll be discussing journalism ethics as much as anything else. And don't let the picture fool you — we won't be having our computers open very often.

And again, because I'm me, when class ended I found myself disappointed that I don't class again until next Tuesday. This has been, by far, the strangest first week of classes I've ever had. It's been positively relaxing, and I'm not entirely sure how to handle that.

After class, a group (12 out of the 14) of us went out to lunch together. That's when I decided that this whole grad school thing is pretty grand. I mean, I get to spend all of my time focusing on the field I'm passionate about, and I get to do so alongside other people who share my interests. What's not to like?

Lunch was also when my happiness in having chosen NYU over CUNY and Columbia was solidified. There's something incredibly awesome about the — buzzword coming — community you get to form when you're a part of a small group of people working together a lot.

Of course I hope to make friends outside of my concentration and even my school. But that doesn't mean I'm mad about the fact that I have an essentially built-in group of people to hang out with and go through this crazy experience with.

And don't let this week fool you — the rest of my time at NYU will be far from relaxing, believe me. Once classes really get rolling, once I start working on my outside-of-class reporting assignments, once I have my first day of work, things will get a little more insane. And I'm anything but mad about that.

For now, though, I guess I can relax in this Labor Day weekend and wait for the madness to truly begin.