Why does one write? One writes for the movies to gain fame and fortune. In journalism, theoretically, one writes to inform and to get people to think. Sometimes journalists forget that they are supposed to be serving the public, and just use the media to serve themselves a dose of fame. How do you fast-forward to fame, past the more diligent masses of writers? Give people something to talk about.
At a university in North Carolina, one student did just that, and remains unrepentent, becoming a member of a new school of journalism: the victimized writer.
"I wanted to get people talking," the writer, a columnist on the college newspaper, said. "I did that. It also got me fired."
She joins the ranks lead by Janet Cooke. For those that don't remember, Janet Cooke was a woman who wrote for The Washington Post as a reporter, and fabricated a story, somewhat based on urban legend, of a young boy who was a junkie. She might have gotten away with it except that the 29 September 1980 piece, "Jimmy's World," won a Pulitzer Prize. Other reporters began doing real reporting. What they found was that she had told a few minor lies on her resume, and then the rest soon unraveled.
Cooke initially gave Post readers something to talk about, and now has gained infamy for something that many others have followed. She complained about the pressure to produce and whispers from sources about someone like Jimmy.
But Cooke was a seasoned reporter and not a columnist. A columnist is supposedly one of the better reporters who has a knack for giving people something to talk about.
More recent people who have been caught out have been less apologetic. Jayson Blair seemed to revel in his notoriety after being fired for fraud at The New York Times. Stephen Glass also seemed to thrive on the media attention when he was found out and fired from The New Republic. Unlike either Blair or Cooke, he had a movie made about him. To a certain extent, the media is to blame for the sudden change, the smugness and unapologetic manner that Blair and Glass and even this student display.
Like them, the student columnist gained more fame than any other columnist or reporter in a school paper could have dreamed about. Think of how many fellow journalists at their respective papers work and write with names unknown, while Blair and Glass and even Cooke got book deals.