When you are a journalist, every word counts. Almost all assignments have a word count requirement that affects how much information you can include, forcing you to either get to the heart of the matter or dig deeper for more information. There is the AP Stylebook, a thick guide that gets updated every year, which dictates how to write, from spelling to word choice––it is known as the journalist’s bible. Every quote must be attributed, and the good journalist will make sure every word said is actually said, and no quote is taken out of context.
All of this and more is in place because the reality is that words matter. If they did not matter, people would not be able to go to court for fighting words, for libel or for slander. Words are not only one of the most powerful weapons one can have; they are also one of the most powerful tools. People go to war over words, they make sacrifices over words, they die over words.
As writers, reporters, real-time archivists of world news, we understand the power of our words. For me, it started when I wrote for the Campus Times newspaper, and received my first message from a reader: The now retired English professor David Werner told me how much he enjoyed reading the story I wrote about his faculty lecture, and how, out of all the articles written about him, mine was the best. The praise was unexpected but much appreciated, so much so that I saved the email. However, I soon learned not every comment left on one of my articles was to commend me, especially when it was an editorial. I was just glad that none of those were directly emailed to me since editorials do not hold bylines.
Assignments come and go, positive and negative comments come and go, and it is easy to fall into a routine, a rut. Go to an event, report it, turn it in. Interview people, write a profile, turn it in. But through the highs and lows of life, we must never forget the importance of what we say, and what we write, no matter our chosen profession.
We must remember words can hurt, they can heal, and they can motivate. Talk of deportation, tearing families apart and building walls causes pain. Having someone’s existence reduced to a derogatory word causes pain. Words incite fear and violence, they do damage and ruin reputations. They can affect the course of an election, and they can captivate and distract from the real issues at hand. Nonetheless, they can shed light.
We are living in a world where people are fighting harder than ever before to be heard thanks to social media. As a journalist, but also as a regular person, I know what I write can have a lasting impact. I do not take this responsibility lightly because I know words carry weight. I know that words matter.
Celene Vargas, editor-in-chief