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Growing Up News

My sisters had started the dishes already, but I still had to eat my peas. I was always the last one done, because everyone else ate their food while sat there and talked and talked. "How was school today?" was all my dad had to ask to set me off on a detailed account of every word I learned to read and every game we were taught to play. My sisters, older than me by 6 and 7 years, listened to their cute younger sister talk about the early days of elementary school. But now everyone was done, and I was left alone, with only the peas to talk to.

My mom usually escaped upstairs, following a long afternoon of listening to my stories and being my endless companion. My sisters paired up on the dishes and chatted about the nuances of middle school and soccer practice. But one person escaped to his own world of after-dinner relaxation. My father usually left the table and went down the hall to the family room, where, from my soap box at the dinner table, I could see him in his lounge chair, magazine in hand. He did not read the magazine but every few minutes, for he was intent on the network news on television that evening. As the chatter about cute boys and ignorant teachers erupted into laughter by the sink, I watched the serious look on my father's face down the hall.

My father was the "tickle monster," the Bill Cosby fan, and the good friend of many. To see his face so serious meant someone had broken a dish or come home late, or perhaps had been caught in a lie. Why was he looking this way as my sisters laughed by the sink? What else had affected him so? There is no particular news story I can recall, for I didn't even know what the news was. Whenever I watched the television during the day, I was all smiles for my favorite characters, Big Bird, Grover, and Papa Smurf.

I soon learned that if I followed my father into the family room after dinner, he would talk to me, often about what was on the news. Soon more of the family would watch, and they would all talk about it. Being the youngest, I wanted to do as my older sisters and parents did, I wanted to watch this show and understand it. As I grew older, I began to participate more and more.

One day at school several years later, my teacher rolled a television into my fourth grade classroom. We had used these before at school, once in second grade for a video that showed us how to react if our house was burning down (I had nightmares for weeks, even months, after that), another that told us not to talk to strangers when walking home from school. By then I realized there were more serious programs on the television than the cartoons and education shows I used to watch exclusively. On this particular day, I would be exposed to news report after news report on the explosion of the Challenger space flight. We watched the story unfold most of the afternoon, and the moment I got home I sat in front of the TV and watched it, moving only for dinner.

By this time, my family had purchased a TV for the kitchen, and our time spent around the dinner table as a family had decreased significantly. I was the only daughter without sports practices, friends with cars or a boyfriend. I still sat at the table for dinner with my parents, but we now had a new source of dinner entertainment, the evening news. We would start with the local news, and then move into the network news, which, with its graphics, music and nicer set, was invariably "better." Then we picked a "better" local station to watch, with the most appealing anchors and flashiest graphics. Now the news that I had loved for personal preferences became the news loved for material reasons. I learned to love somebody else's news, rather than deciding what was important on my own. We talked about the stories during commercials as my parents and I discussed more about the rest of the world than the moment-to-moment recap of my day. I liked this better. I loved to learn about what was going on in the world. I loved the fact that my parents talked to me about it and expressed their views openly in front of me. This was knowledge, this was exciting.

At Sunday breakfast before church, the whole family would grab a section of the newspaper. I always got the comics. I don't know at what point I began fighting for the front section, but I soon began reading the comics after first scanning the hard news. I modeled my father, wanting to read the magazines he read and watch the news he liked to discuss. I modeled my mother, watching Jeopardy each night at 7:30, digging for the answers. My mom asked me one Sunday, as we sat around the table eating and watching golf following church, "Sarah, why don't you read the comics anymore?" I didn't have an answer for her, she never liked to see me grow up anyway.

As I entered middle school and then high school, I had conversations with my friends where I would be appalled at the lack of information they displayed. Didn't their parents watch the news? Why didn't they join them? At age fourteen, my friends were reading magazines such as Seventeen and YM, and looking at glossy pictures of beautiful models and good-looking boys. I was searching through Time and Newsweek looking for information about what was going on in the rest of the world. I knew the names of foreign heads of state before I knew what mascara was.

It used to be cool, in fourth or fifth grade, to know what was going on, to have the information. But that role lost its luster as I entered middle school. I still watched the news and I loved to sit down with a news magazine to read more about the quick sound bites I heard on the news, but I soon discovered I needed to pay more attention to nail polish and fashion, and I needed to listen to "New Kids on The Block" or I was going to become an outcast. So here I made a transition of sorts, moving from a desire to fit in with my family to a desire to fit in with my peers. I still watched the local news at 6 instead of the reruns of "Happy Days," but certain shows other people watched with their friends and parents were forbidden in my house. "The Love Boat" and "Dallas" were not shows my family sat down to watch together. "The Wonder Years" was even a difficult show to watch when Fred Savage began developing crushes on the cute girl in his class. These were topics my family did not discuss. Soccer practice, Reagan economics and local politics were all fair game, but boys did not fit into our nightly conversations.

As I joined the soccer team and began spending more time with friends in high school, I fell out of my addiction to the news media and focused more on my growing circle of friends. I became involved in school politics, and was even class president for two years. I still needed to be where the information was, knowing what was going on before everyone else knew. A trip to Washington, D.C., my junior year in high school for a student program titled A Presidential Classroom for Young Americans introduced me to the world of politics. I renewed my interest in world events and world news following that week. I had met Sarah Kemp Brady, supporter of the Brady Bill for handgun control. Newt Gingrich, a rising star from Georgia, had given us a tour of Capitol Hill. These were the people with the knowledge and the power. These were the people who gave the news media something to talk about. I had found my calling. I returned home only to turn on the news once again. After soccer practice I often stayed with my friend Jenny for one of her mom's amazing pasta dinners. She would leave her bedroom to tell her parents about her day and I would quickly switch on her television to watch C-Span, a channel my cable-deprived home never enjoyed. I would scan the images to see people I had met while in Washington, and occasionally I say them.

The catalog for Syracuse University's S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications could not say enough about its broadcast journalism program. I was hooked. I liked the photos of students on mock news shows pretending to tell the world about the happenings of the day. I was filling out the application to Syracuse and had filled in the Arts and Sciences section with political science as the choice for a major. I wanted to be a politician who made the news happen. Newhouse would be my option if I changed my mind about political science or if I didn't make it big in politics. The broadcast journalism major was the obvious choice. I had been watching newscasters for over a decade tell me the news and tell my entire family what was important enough to disrupt our dinner each night.

I was in Communications and Society freshman year when I realized the certain type of person required to be a broadcast journalist. I realized that news is not always about telling people the important things that happen, but that it often involves telling people that what happened was important. I didn't want to have to beg and scratch to get the news. I didn't enjoy being the reporter for The Daily Orange who had to be ignored and even turned away at Student Government Association meetings due to the hostility between the student government and the student press. Was that the way news really worked? I learned that it was. I couldn't rely on the news alone to give me information. Following that class, I discovered I didn't want to be the seeker of news, but the source of news. I wanted to hold the information, to have found it on my own through various sources. That is how I decided to change my major to public relations. I enjoyed the idea that I would have the information, and that it would be my job to give it out.

I have been raised to know that knowledge is power. Without knowledge and a certain level of understanding, people will be able to walk all over me, or even look down on me as I looked down on those who didn't know what was going on around them. I was raised to understand the importance of worldly events and developments. I cherish information and have been raised by my parents and the news media to believe that without an understanding of the information that is out there, I will not succeed. I was never a victim of the fashion or entertainment media to the level that my friends were. I am, instead, a child of the growing news media and their increasing hold on the American public. This is why I have chosen the career path I hope to follow and why I have targeted the dreams I hope to achieve. My parents instilled in me respect for various institutions; the government, the church, and the media. This respect has led to my career choice today.

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