An Ira Glass pep talk to new journalists

This will come as bad news to about half the country (according to polls), but the movement to save a free press just got reinforcements.

There are still a lot of young people who want to be journalists and they’re out to uncertain future. Jobs may be tough to find at traditional news organizations, but this is a generation that has been raised with new traditions of news.

So it was fitting last week that the Columbia Journalism School honored its graduating students by featuring Ira Glass, who shook up a tired radio industry years ago with a new way of doing things.

“There’s a war for facts and truth in this country,” he said. “You’re going to the front lines.”

He offered hope that people won’t always hate the other side of the story.

I did a fundraiser for a public radio station last night in someone’s very nice home in the suburbs, and the woman who hosted it told me she heard the episode we did a couple months ago on Republican Senator Jeff Flake. Producer Zoe Chace followed him for four months as he tried to get DACA legislation passed.

This woman told me she had that this feeling listening, which was she described like; “No. Don’t make me LIKE him!” She was like, “I didn’t want it to happen but you humanized him.”

And I was like “we didn’t humanize him! He is a human!”

You know? We were simply documenting who he is like we document anyone else. Zoe presented his stubborn idealism and also his flaws – argued with his premises – challenged him point by point throughout the hour. The same way we do with anyone who comes on the show.

This listener seemed cautiously okay with the fact that she was seeing him as a human being. Seeing a Republican senator as a person. To be sure, a person she did not agree with. But a person with principles and decency … and not a monster.

The fact that journalism can do that … I think that’s one of the things journalism can accomplish in this present moment. Like, I don’t think anyone is going to change their minds about DACA. Or about any other issue facing the country because of some story they hear on the radio. That’s just not how people work. Like you would never change your minds about abortion or guns or who to vote for based on a story you heard on the radio. Nobody would.

But I do think it’s possible – in this utterly divided moment in our country – to get listeners to understand the reality and complexity of people who are not in their particular group — whatever that group might be.

Here’s the transcript.