Leighton Zink: Choosing The Right Fight

There’s something to be said for the state of mind that accompanies an extra semester or two at high school—a sort of fifth-year zen, if you will.

An under-represented field of study, fifth-year zen, or Senioritis as it is more commonly known, is a medical-condition that has long-intrigued me as a kid growing up in the WCI community. Sure I had heard the legends—students so calm and uninvolved that their classroom demeanor made it hard to tell “disinterested” from “asleep”—but the legends couldn’t be true, could they? I’ll be honest, I was a skeptic. Something about a composure that could only be achieved through time was hard for me to swallow. Maybe I just didn’t want to admit that I still had growing up to do.

Now that I’m here, the truth is more simple: there just isn’t a great deal of time for complaining. Between aimlessly scrolling through university websites and trying to keep that acceptance average from taking a nosedive, I’ve taken the liberty to book-off some strict, no-fuss days. If I’m going to get riled up, something, somewhere has really got to be going wrong. Which, oddly enough, either makes the articles that I write suitably worthwhile, or unfortunately petty. I like to think it’s the former. And perhaps more importantly, it also gets us to the real reason I‘ve put together this article in particular: How do we decide what matters? What battles are really worth picking?

Surrounded by online stimulation, I’ve come to realize that on any given day, literally hundreds of individual stories will try their darndest to appear worthy of my concern, whether that be the discovery of “A Next-Gen Cancer Treatment” or the taping of “Seven Absolutely Hilarious Times Bill Murray Was Caught Sneezing at Starbucks (number 6 will blow your mind!!!).” 

For the first time in centuries, digital media have created a market where online startups have equal opportunity to test their mettle against the biggest names in the journalistic business, and needless to say, it’s a challenge that has not gone unanswered. The phenomenon has left the consumer with an overly-saturated environment of sensationalist content, not all of which I’d be eager to describe as useful. On the bright side, it’s a change that does gives you and I the opportunity to answer for ourselves, an age-old question: What exactly does it take to speak for the people? As it turns out, not a whole lot.

See, modern media-theory now dictates that all news-related businesses must follow one of two principles: Either, a) produce content so niche that supply is next to nonexistent (think 10 Facts Only _____ Will Understand) and allow the sheer size of the internet to take care of demand, or b) just to toss in half a dozen exclamation points, a catch-phrase or two, cross your fingers and call it a day. That’s what we call clickbait journalism here at the office. Unfortunately for a certain portion of society, myself among them, punctuation and hyperbole is of rather limited novelty. There are only so many times a guy can have his mind blown, you know? Not to say that I don’t enjoy that style of writing every now and then, but it sure does make deciding what’s important a struggle.

Which is why, as of late, tracing common themes through the news has become an idle hobby of mine. My job is to connect the dots between those seemingly unrelated articles, video clips and annoying lists that are spread out over several pages for no good reason, to put together what matters, and what doesn’t. How often can I say, with any real conviction, that one of those stories in particular shaped my life? What about the lives of those around me? The trick is to look at the bigger picture. Real stories aren’t defined by a single photo or funny GIF, but by the ripples they create. Sooner or later they’ll turn up again, for better or for worse. You can count on it.

So it’s only when I find myself questioning whether or not I’ve already read an article some weeks before—or one very much like it—that I know I might be looking at something real (or plagiarized). I guess in that way, modern media has forced me to delay my judgement—be sensible. I can’t always jump on the latest bandwagon that pops up, I just don’t have the time, and hey, neither do you. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s all about using your head. I have a strange feeling that being able to see past the excess will come in handy as a modern interpretation of the term “journalism” continues to develop. Especially, if you’re a fifth year who wants to save that time for something more exciting, like applying for student funding. Yeah, that sounds like a great time.