Oregonian columnist champions student journalism

By The Beacon | January 26, 2011 9:00pm

Student Media: Move it or lose it

Steve Duin, Metro columnist for The Oregonian (photo courtesy of The Oregonian)

By by Steve Duin, Guest Commentary -- UP Beacon

Afflict the comfortable.

Comfort the afflicted.

That's the advice of an al­coholic in the film, "Inherit the Wind," but a drunk with a moral center.

It's the duty and responsibil­ity of a journalist, Gene Kelly in­sists, at least any journalist worth his weight in salt and dignity.

And it is as true now, in 2011, as it was in 1960 when the movie was made.

If justice is to prevail, if truth will out, the comfortable – the smug, the corrupt, the shame­less – must be afflicted, and the afflicted – the poor, the lost, the heartbroken – must be comfort­ed.

That's where you come in.

As newspapers wither and journalism loses its shape and power, the planet is falling out of balance. There is trouble in the heartland.

As Bruce Springsteen, Amer­ica's poet laureate, has said:

"Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain't satisfied till he rules every­thing."

And each time I look around, desperate for reinforcements, there are fewer and fewer college students available to confront the afflictions of the poor and the comforts of the king.

Fewer investigative reporters.

Fewer videographers.

Fewer feature writers.

Fewer columnists worth a hill of beans.

Fewer critics who know Springsteen isn't America's poet laureate, just New Jer­sey's.

Fresh out of Wake Forest Uni­versity, I took my first newspaper job in 1976, almost 35 years ago. I stayed in the business during its glory years, when newspapers made so much money from clas­sified ads and supermarket sup­plements that they could throw money and reporters at every story in sight, even that curious break-in at the Watergate Hotel.

By and large, that money is gone, and many of the best re­porters have retired, disappeared into the belly of blogs that no one reads, or signed on to promote the very institutions they were once paid to monitor.

It is no coincidence that the comfortable have rarely been so comfortable. The afflicted have never had so much company.

At 56, I don't have many years left to impact that equation.

At 18, 19 or twentysomething, you're perfectly positioned to take the baton.

The Beacon, the University of Portland's weekly newspaper, has numerous opportunities to get you involved in the timely, and timeless, exercise of afflict­ing the comfortable and comfort­ing the afflicted.

The jobs don't pay all that much.

But they will involve you, in unique and novel ways, in your campus, your church, your col­lege and your community. Those jobs will introduce you to both the comfortable and the afflicted, allowing you to decide for your­self which fraternity deserves your empathy and which war­rants your vigilance.

Neither the editors of The Beacon nor I can promise you there's still a life-long career in this enterprise, of the kind that I have cherished.

But if you are inspired to sign on, the afflicted will sleep a little easier and the comfortable will not.

And there are far worse epi­taphs for your gravestone.

Steve Duin is the Metro col­umnist for The Oregonian. He taught Feature Writing at UP last fall.

 at UP last fall.