Shirola: Reflections on my three years at The Daily


Wesley Shirola, Columnist

When I arrived at Northwestern as a freshman in the fall of 2017, I never thought I’d end up writing opinion pieces for The Daily. For starters, I had never written an op-ed before. And quite frankly, journalism just wasn’t really my thing. After all, we were still less than a year into the Trump presidency and the country’s distrust of the media was running high.

Nevertheless, here I am three years later with my name in the byline. So, I’d like to take this time to reflect on these past few years — anyone that’s read my columns knows it’s been quite the ride. But perhaps more importantly, I’d like to look forward — and I’d like you to do so with me.

I got sucked into the world of journalism pretty quickly. I wrote my first column a mere two weeks after my freshman classes started. Sadly, I don’t really remember any single moment that prompted my change of heart. Of course, I’d like to believe that I had some transcendental revelation or something equally grandiose. In reality, though, I simply felt compelled to bring a voice of reason to The Daily, to Northwestern and to the country at a time when it was needed most.

North Korea was ramping up its nuclear program, launching test missiles left and right and threatening the entire world in turn. In Bangladesh, a humanitarian crisis loomed as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims sought refuge after fleeing attacks in Myanmar. “Fake news,” still a relatively new term, invaded the media. President Trump declared that there were “very fine people on both sides” after a woman was killed and many more injured while protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Opioid overdoses became the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The list goes on.

I knew that I couldn’t personally fix any of these problems, nor could I make them completely go away. What I could do was write about them and bring a level-headed perspective to these and other stories. And that’s exactly what I set out to achieve.

I had no clue what I was doing when I wrote my first column for The Daily on October 3, 2017, so I decided to go big or go home. I detailed the still-ongoing global food crisis and called for a so-called “World Food Policy” to be crafted by leading nations in order to transform the current agricultural system. A lofty goal — trust me, I know.

I’ll be the first to admit that I cringe a bit when looking back at this piece. It reads more as an oratory than as a column, but that’s excusable: I was pretty competitive in original oratory in high school. But regardless of the quality of the writing, my first column illustrates the two principles that I would abide by in all my future columns: using lots of data-based evidence and asking my readers to think critically about often challenging new perspectives. Data journalism is still relatively new, but I’m proud to practice it and I wholeheartedly believe that it makes journalism both more engaging and more thought-provoking.

Unsurprisingly, both the quality of my writing and the strength of my arguments have improved markedly during my three years at The Daily. For this, I owe nearly all of my gratitude to the brilliant and talented editors that I have had the pleasure of working with. And while it wasn’t always smooth sailing — there were, admittedly, many disagreements — I think it’s safe to say that we all learned from each other. The Daily has always fostered a supportive environment for all of our writers, and I’m glad to have been a part of it.

I mentioned at the beginning of this column that my three years at The Daily have been quite the ride. As I reread my past columns in preparation for writing this one, I was struck by the true diversity of all the things I’ve written in these pages — everything from our need to relearn the art of listening and the importance of science to pressing for full gender equality in the military and legalizing psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes.

Most of my columns were well-received, but there were certainly a few that stirred passionate debates — and I’m glad they did. Sadly, some of my readers responded with hate and malevolence. But it is my sincere hope that the rest of you benefited from being exposed to potentially uncomfortable opinions, for this is both good and necessary. As the great Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.” Let us not fail him.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.