An Unexpected Curriculum
By Manya Goldstein
I caught the “news bug” on a fifth-grade field trip to The Florida Today headquarters in Melbourne, FL. From that day onward, I devoted myself to building my journalistic toolkit and learning everything I could about the field that captivated me from the very start. In high school, I climbed the ranks of the award-winning Stanton Devil’s Advocate and found myself running my first newsroom by the age of 17. I could hardly wait to begin journalism school at Rutgers University and dive head-first into the evolving industry to help shape the media landscape of tomorrow.
But just one month into my freshman year, I ran into a small hitch in the plan. I got sick. I was diagnosed with an autonomic nervous system disorder called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). My life all of a sudden turned upside down with debilitating symptoms ranging from near-fainting spells to extreme fatigue, dizziness, abdominal pain, insomnia, brain fog…and the list goes on. POTS made everyday tasks excruciatingly challenging. It confined me to the couch for days on end, clouded my intellectual acuity and made the simple task of standing up feel like running a marathon. On more than one occasion, I almost gave up and returned home to Florida. Yet I persisted. Through sheer will power, I forged onward, managing to stay in school and maintain a 4.0 GPA. Based on my resume, it might even appear I was a healthy college student. I wrote for our campus newspaper The Daily Targum, acquired a job as a journalist for the School of Engineering and even joined the editorial board of the Rutgers Journal of Bioethics. During a particularly challenging summer, I still managed to show up 80 percent of the time for my dual internships at Jacksonville Magazine and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ digital marketing department. And when POTS trapped me inside the house, I decided to become a freelance graphic designer to improve my layout and design skills. As they say, "When life gives you lemons..."
But I wanted more. When I began college, I imagined myself jumping head first into the fast-paced news industry, traveling to New York City for prestigious internships that would mold me into a journalist worthy of writing for The Wall Street Journal (which has always been my dream). Yet life has a funny way of working out. Little did I know that my journey back to health would form me into a more skilled, self-aware, resilient journalist than I could ever have imagined. It would take pages to describe my entire journey, but allow me to conclude with the top three lessons POTS has taught me about the field I hold so dear:
Lesson #1: Be Mindful.
Journalism has always been fast-paced. It needs to be. But thanks to the instantaneous nature of the digital world, it appears we have been blinded by the desire to be the first, to get the most clicks, to capitalize on the newest, hottest platform. I believe we must learn how to pause, take a deep breath and work calmly and deliberately—forever remaining mindful of our precious mission in society.
Lesson #2: Think Holistically.
Journalism does not take place in a vacuum. With each story we tell, we automatically enter into an intricate relationship among people, places, events and ideas. In journalism—and all areas of life—we must take time to consider the bigger picture. What effect do our actions have on other people? What role do we want to play in the grander scheme of the world?
Lesson #3: Become Self-Empowered.
Many speak about the uncertain state of journalism in such deterministic tones, one would think the future has already been decided. Newsflash: Together, we create the future. We cannot be passive bystanders. We must take the reins. This lesson holds true in all areas of life, but it is especially important for today’s journalists to embrace. What is the antidote to the fear of uncertainty? Taking charge.
Lesson #4: Harness Your Willpower.
In my most desperate hours, I found comfort in the last lines of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” As journalists, we must embody resilience. We must forge onward to the next lead, the next story, the next opportunity…even when all hope appears lost. This lesson is especially pertinent in our modern media landscape with its uncertain waters and constantly changing tides. Even when we can’t see the horizon, we must always maintain faith that it is still there waiting for us. And we must forever forge onward—to a bright future.
I have forged onward through my own treacherous tides and uncertain waters, and I can now see my horizon before me. I am ready to dive head-first into my future, helping to further the mission of high quality, ethical journalism for the digital age. As I enter my last semester at Rutgers University, I will embrace this chapter as the end of one invaluable journey and the start of another beautiful adventure.