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Finding heroes in the headlines

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JULY 30, 2018

A few days after the Capital Gazette shooting, I started watching “Supergirl.”

After reading of the survivors who produced a newspaper the day after five of their colleagues died, it seemed escapist to watch a show like that. But even in a fantastical world, journalism was there.

It’s funny that Kara Danvers, the titular Supergirl, can do anything — stop a bus, hold up a parking structure, fly faster than the speed of sound. She can save anyone. But what she wants more than anything else is to be a journalist.

I have been a journalist of sorts for four years — I mostly write about art. Sometimes I report on music, sometimes on film or television; I write a newsletter that gets emailed to a handful of people. From a television critic’s perspective, Kara’s penchant for journalism seemed an improbable plot point. Suspending disbelief meant investing in Kara fully as a superhero, as someone far from my life, as unrelatable.

I mean, I’ve been a journalist for four years, and I haven’t saved any lives.

I became a journalist because of a friend named Katherine who spent her high school nights in front of an old desktop searching for synonyms to shorten headlines. She made it sound poetic.

When I began as an arts reporter in college, Katherine wasn’t really there anymore. I filled days and nights with windy music festivals, congested concert halls and hushed auditoriums. I phoned keyboardists from pop bands I’d heard on the radio, met Manhattan subway performers in Thai restaurants and talked about The Who with a man from Boston in the San Francisco rain.

Writing about art put me close to so many artists. It was exhilarating. I was on conference calls with windsurfing folk bands and girl bands being chased by bees. I interviewed directors who spoke to Quentin Tarantino and musicians who ate lunch with Chance the Rapper. I researched Luc Besson until I knew his wardrobe.

But I was only ever close. I talked to artists and I wrote about them. I listened to art and I watched art and I wrote about it. But I never created art. I was not an artist.

After a year, the sidelines from which I reported began to feel unimportant. Writing about art anyone could have opinions on felt like cutting windows into a space with no walls.

Then, comments started showing up.

“I’m sitting in Mezzo before class and just read your 10-19 article under ‘Mind the Gap,’ and wanted to text you about it. The opening is masterful … Thanks for the good read.”

“Sincere praise for your article in today’s Daily Cal. It helped me process some measure of grief over the passing of my mother back in 2009.”

“I’m currently on my smoko at work in Melbourne Australia … Your Gorillaz review is ace. It’s nice to know people still dig music. Just wanted to say thanks.”

A professor at UC Berkeley, a Harvard graduate, a guy from Melbourne. I had an audience.

The compliments mattered less than the gratitude underlying them. I was hearing the “Thank you” that I held in my head for Regina Spektor and for Florence Welch and for Damien Chazelle and for Saoirse Ronan and for Christopher Nolan and for Lorde — for artists.

So maybe journalism is its own art.

I’m telling people’s stories — their lives, their music, their movies. And it isn’t redundant or unnecessary. It’s appreciated; it resonates.

I’m still watching “Supergirl” — I heard the second season is really good. And now the premise feels a little less crazy. Communicating is hard, a jumble of my thoughts and other people’s thoughts, and reporting takes that jumble and turns it into something I’m proud of. It is, in its own right, a kind of superpower.

Olivia Jerram is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].

JULY 30, 2018