When I entered High School, I took a couple of religion-centered classes at the local Jewish Community Center as part of the requirements for Confirmation at my synagogue. Among these courses was one titled “Torah and TV, Jews and Journalism”, taught by an almost elfin old man named Sandy.
No one in the class could have foreseen what methods this man had previously employed to teach his students to report effectively.
The point of the class seemed as though we were being led to only trust the allegedly objective liberal (pro-Israel) media, but Sandy was having none of that; He turned on FOX News.
The reporter spoke, and we listened, failing to see the subjectivity in his words, and we never did understand what we were searching for until Sandy played the tape again and pointed to the bottom of the screen. The running text at the bottom ran almost propagandized revisions of the reporter’s words; this was the start of our unwavering trust in Sandy’s ability.
Despite our ideological differences, I knew I was watching some sort of visionary. His forthcoming story would come to explain the essence of how effective an instructor this man was.
Apparently Sandy had returned to college to get his Doctorate after being banished from the district where his employing High School was situated, and his only option was to teach College Courses. Needless to say, whoever did not drop his course immediately, certainly learned the meaning of “eyewitness news”.
His students were having trouble reporting; they could not interview a witness to save their lives. Sandy concocted a plan to give his students some real world experience. He recruited the High Schools’ Athletic Director and purchased a firearm and a box of blanks for the Director’s use.
All of the students were required to take an arranged number of credit hours of Physical Education per academic year. Thus, when Sandy feigned refusal to allow any student to leave for their class, the Athletic Director came through the door with the gun pointed at Sandy’s lanky, hunched frame, all of the students gasped.
When he pulled the trigger, Sandy fell to the ground and lay motionless for 15 seconds. This was immediately followed by a girl’s belated shock and subsequent shriek as Sandy rose to his feet, watching the “gunman” flee.
Stone-faced, Sandy looked upon his class and intoned, as if he had not just been shot, “You just witnessed a crime, now write about it.”
In a class of 38 students, only 10 had returned to class the next day, having switched to a different journalism course. Both Sandy and the Director were fired, and banned from the School District. The Director gave up teaching and opened a sporting goods store, but Sandy, ever the educator, went back to college, this time to teach.
What made his class so interesting was that he defied the standard “Jewish journalism” pattern: We were taught to see both sides of an issue by absorbing as many outlets as possible, rather than looking for the victim and the perpetrator; something relatively common in classes like that.
I can’t say that I didn’t learn anything from him: By the time I reached College myself, I immediately became a Staff Writer for the College Paper, and only 4 months later, became the Opinion Editor.
Employing Sandy’s teachings, I compiled an almost superfluously exciting Opinion page three times per week. Having developed an infatuation with the “unvanquished truth”, I tried to the Opinion page pure; only opinions would be accepted, any pandering, watering-down, and vague language would be edited to make one’s stance clear. I think I did a pretty good job, but the Editor-in-Chief begged to differ and I was let go after questioning the constitutionality of the University’s Technology Services.
I was never cut out of to be a journalist, thus, I never tried to be one. In my time with the publication, I had written a slew of articles that brought the force of the administration down upon the paper, albeit in an admonitory way, which was misinterpreted by the Editor in Chief. I was thought of as a troublemaker, and as such, my fact-checking ability, my motives, and even the subversive nature of my pieces were being questioned, even once I had become the section editor.
If Sandy had taught me anything, it was that if you’re going to be a journalist (not a partisan, like I strived to be) then you have to learn to be perceptive without relating to your subject matter. That was something I simply could not do. I had to be subjective, otherwise I didn’t see the point.
People always told me I’d make a great journalist, but based mostly upon my writing, and I felt compelled to dissuade them. With that said, when my father compares my writing to that of other noted opinion writers—Hunter S. Thompson and his ilk—I think, “No, I’m more like that crazy old man who had his co-worker shoot him to prove a point.”