“I am Professor…” he walked to the chalkboard and scrawled as he spoke, “Martin. And you are in…” he moved to the next chalkboard and continued his writing, “Philosophy of Modern Journalism.” He turned to face the class, still gripping the chalk. “If this comes as a surprise to you, and you thought this was Introduction to Discrete Number Theory, now would be an excellent time to leave.” He waited a beat, as though he expected some students to depart, but none did, and several laughed.
“I’m hoping that the candlelight is sufficient,” he continued. “You may find that moving a little closer might help if you are having trouble seeing. I’ve been assured by the administration that this is a temporary condition, and—”
Cheers broke out as the lights came on, flooding the room with a warm yellow glow.
“Well there you have it. I understand that our engineering department has been working hard all summer building a microgrid to power our campus, and it seems they’ve finished just in time. I’m thrilled all of you were able to find your way here. I’m sure it was quite an adventure for our students joining us from the west coast, in particular.”
“PNW represent!” a student yelled.
The professor raised an eyebrow and continued. “I have to admit this is a first for me. In addition to figuring out how to teach this class without PowerPoint, this is the first time I’ve had to teach an introductory journalism class to a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism. Madison Johnson, could you please stand?”
Madison flushed. She did not expect to get called out like this. She put down her notebook and stood to whoops and cheers from the other students.
“Why don’t you come down here and let’s talk about it?” he said.
“Do I have to?” she replied sheepishly.
“Mad-i-son! Mad-i-son!” the other students chanted, as she begrudgingly made her way down to the front of the auditorium. The professor set up two folding chairs and the two sat half-facing each other. Madison felt like she was on a talk show.
“You’ll need to speak up so people can hear you,” he said. “So tell us how it feels to be the person who wrote the last piece of journalism ever published on Internet one point zero.”
“I have no idea how to answer that,” Madison said. “I had the story. I knew I had the facts right. And because of what I knew, I had no choice but to get it out there as quickly as possible.”
“I’ve had deadlines before, but none quite like that,” Professor Martin said like an actor in a sitcom delivering a punchline. The class laughed on cue. “How did you get onto the story?”
“Well you might not remember this, but back in the day we used to all carry phones in our pockets…” Madison waited as the class laughed. “I got a new one for my birthday, and there were text messages for someone else.”
“So you just stumbled upon the story?”
“Pretty much. I followed one lead to another. I’ll be honest, I crossed a few lines that I now know I shouldn’t have crossed.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“My friend hacked a computer network for me. I did a little breaking and entering. Stuff like that,” she said.
“Well that’s not good,” he replied. “We’ll be talking about the Code of Ethics in this class in a few weeks. I hope you’ll pay close attention.” The class laughed again. “So did things play out the way you expected? After the Pulse?”
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Madison said. “I guess I’m surprised that things have bounced back this fast. I mean, I never expected to be able to attend classes this fall. Getting that letter from Northwestern was a real surprise.” A murmur rolled through the class, and Madison could hear that she was not alone in that. “Who would have expected the postal service to adapt so quickly?”
The professor laughed, “Certainly not me! You wrote about the warehouses of supplies in the story, but not the other things that CLP was doing to prepare for life after the Pulse.”
“Well I didn’t know about any of that. I don’t think my sources did, either. CLP was organized into cells, and each cell only knew enough to complete their particular mission. I stumbled onto a cell that was concerned with food and medicine distribution. They didn’t know anything about the cells that were preparing the components for microgrids, for example. The people I was talking to thought we’d be without power for years.”
“I heard that you were actually there when the Pulse happened. Is that true?”
“It is. I had given a draft of my story to the head of the cell I uncovered—Mr. Black. I was hoping to get confirmation of some of the things I couldn’t find second sources for. I didn’t realize that would trigger what they called a ‘containment protocol’ that was essentially kidnapping.”
“Journalists get kidnapped pretty regularly in developing countries,” the professor said. “But you don’t expect that here in America.”
“I certainly didn’t. But it did give me the confirmation I was looking for, and that let me get the story out.”
“Okay, I won’t keep you on the hot seat anymore. You can head back up,” he said. He walked to the front of the class, “So what you just witnessed was a form of journalism, called a Personality Interview. Thank you for playing along, Madison. I’m sure you’ll be doing a lot of those in your life.”
Madison settled back in her seat in the middle of the auditorium and rolled her eyes. She felt the eyes of the class on her, but she kept her gaze locked on her notebook and pretended to take notes.