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by Marcela Davison Aviles

A recent Op-Ed by Felix Salmon at the Fusion network made the case against journalism as a career path for young people.  On its face, his “Letter to a Budding Journalist” succeeds in arguing that life for the modern journalist is mostly the result of serendipity – Salmon was in the right place at the right time, and his English accent was an effective disguise for innate intelligence, which apparently landed him on the path of writing blogs about the lousy state of the media. Perhaps Salmon had Rilke in mind when he addressed his fictional “budding journalist” but somehow I doubt it.

True, in his first “Letter to a Young Poet” Ranier Marie Rilke also declined to offer advice to the would be poet who wrote to him, young Franz Kappus, about the craft of writing. He said, instead, “Nobody can advise and help you, nobody.” And then he proceeded to offer the best advice: “There is only one way. Go into yourself.”  Thus, in ten letters which have burned the back pockets of aspiring poets ever since, Rilke proceeds to advise Kappus on how a poet should feel, love, and seek truth in trying to understand and experience the world around him and engage the world of art.

Apart from its gleeful snark, the real message of Salmon’s piece is not its intended opinion, to wit, “journalism is tough and then you die, therefore do not ask for whom the media writes, it writes for people who look like me.”

Nor is the message found in the many opinions expressed in the resulting commentaries – that journalism is a calling, and that there are plenty of jobs out there for new j-grads.

The real message is Salmon’s silence — his silence regarding the power of words to evoke. His silence about the transcendence of language. His blindness to the power of expression to overcome barriers of oppression, injustice and snark disguised as opinion.

There is an obvious response to Salmon. But then again, it is not so obvious to one who by his own admission speaks from a position of white privilege, one that makes it possible for him to feel guilty enough about his status that “he might try a bit harder” to help a budding journalist of color “get your foot in the door.” The response is this: we must use our voices to insist on equity, insist on inclusion, insist on beauty which is informed by the essence of who we are.

So, to the budding journalists out there, especially young people of color: when someone tries to discourage you based on their “experience,” listen closely and then do what any good reporter does. Ask a lot of questions. Research. Ask more questions. Check, and re-check and check again your facts and sources. And then I hope you decide to join the ranks of a group which could use your fresh ideas. Based on national statistics, the ratio of Latino reporters to the total number of professional journalists in the U.S. is well below the ratio of the Latino population relative to the total population. We need more reporters from diverse backgrounds, not less. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of America’s demographics understands this.

Unless, of course, you have the privilege of not having to understand.

Marcela Davison Aviles is an author, lawyer and founder of Chapultepec Group, a leading cultural insights agency serving the arts and entertainment industry and Managing Director of El Camino Project, a new arts social venture initiative.