The Purpose of the Press
The door to Professor Lambert’s chambers creaked open. The Gnorbu looked up from his daily reading and twitched his ear. “Ah, you must be Jacob, come right this way!” he said, motioning to the seat in front of his desk. “Now, I have your file pulled out already. I gave it a read over my lunch break, I hope you don’t mind. Your résumé is very impressive indeed.”
“I…I just wanted to say it’s an absolute honor,” said Jacob, visibly shaking. Professor Lambert had always been the Christmas Kacheek’s hero.
“I must say that means quite a bit,” Professor Lambert said, trying to quell the tension. “Now, seeing as you’re visibly nervous, I’ll just read off what I know about you, and you can just nod in agreement. This is part of the reason that this meeting is happening to begin with, after all.” Jacob nodded. “Perfect. Now, let’s see. Your request stated that you want to return to Brightvale University to get another degree, but you’ve run into some trouble. As head of our Board of Directors, I can say that our linguistics program focuses heavily on face-to-face communication with others, but you yourself claim you are far from a social Kacheek. So you’re looking for a supplementary activity that will help you to gain confidence when speaking to others. Did I hit the mark with that analysis, or not?”
“Yes, quite good. I must say, Jacob, it’s always nice to have alumni return to further themselves in their pursuit of knowledge. Linguistics is a fascinating field of study. Neopia’s many languages are rich with histories all their own,” Lambert said as he stood from his seat, arms outspread while staring at a globe. “But sometimes one must step back from these larger ideas with deep histories, and instead, focus in on the here and now.” Professor Lambert began fumbling through his papers before pulling out a flyer. “Ah ha! Here we are.”
Jacob looked over the flyer that Lambert had handed him. It was a recruitment poster of sorts. On the paper was printed, in bold letters, “Brightvale University Times – Reporters Wanted” with a picture of a rather cheeky looking Pteri alongside it.
“It’s out of your comfort zone, I know, but I feel it will serve as a nice stepping stone on getting you to break out of your proverbial shell a bit, don’t you think? I know you can do great things, Jacob. Just give it a try, and who knows? Perhaps some good will come of it,” said Professor Lambert, smiling. “Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have a meeting with the Seekers to prepare for. Professor Fairweather claims to have found something extraordinary at the bottom of Kiko Lake, and I wouldn’t want to show up without some insightful questions to ask. Goodbye, Jacob. Feel free to make another appointment if you need anything else!” And with that, Professor Lambert was already out the door.
Jacob took a moment to catch his breath. “Well, that was overwhelming,” he said to himself. “The BU Times, huh? I never thought of myself as a press pet, but if it helps me with my anxiety, I’ll try…” he said, as he tucked the flyer into his pocket.
The campus of Brightvale University was in full swing once more, seeing as it was the start of the fall semester. So many things change in the fall; the leaves lose their shine and the air becomes crisp and cool. For Jacob, he felt it would be a good time to take the remaining courses he’d need to fulfill another set of degree requirements: he’d gotten most of what he’d needed for a linguistics major through his minor and electives, so he felt he may as well further himself by going back to go the extra mile.
Students and professors alike walked around the scenic campus, books piled high in their hands. Brightvale University wasn’t exactly a “party school” after all; there are many reasons why it’s ranked as Neopia’s top institute of higher education. It was refreshing to see familiar sights through a, literally, new set of eyes: the last time he’d been at Brightvale University, Jacob had still been a Kougra. The changing foliage flittered toward the ground as some bits met their end at the feet of the passersby, resulting in an oh-so-satisfying crunch. But for Jacob, it was also crunch time. He looked toward a small building on the campus, right beside the Media Arts building. On the door was a tattered piece of paper, crumpled from weathering, and held by a piece of tape struggling to hold onto the door. “News Recruitment Inside” was written upon its face.
With a heavy sigh, Jacob opened the door and was met with a flight of stairs, with more pieces of paper with arrows on them pointing downwards. As he followed the labyrinth of stairs down to the basement, he started to tense up. Upon reaching the bottom, he stared at the door for a moment, cautious.
“I need to go through with this. Jacob, it’ll only better yourself,” Jacob said, quietly giving himself a pep talk. As he was about to open the door, it flew open and hit his goggles, which luckily absorbed most of the impact with no damage. Moltaran-forged glass had some use after all, he thought.
“I am SO sorry,” said a purple Xweetok carrying a stack of recruitment flyers. “Been busy all day getting these flyers out all day. Need a hand?” she said, extending a paw to aid in Jacob’s recovery. “I didn’t hit you too badly did I?”
“No, you’re…you’re fine,” Jacob said, readjusting his goggles. “These goggles are pretty shock-absorbent. I knew that feature would come in handy one day,” he said, laughing nervously a bit afterwards. “Do you know where I can find the Editor in Chief? I’m here to try for a position on the…”
“Oh YES! The flyers DID work!” yelled the Xweetok, hugging her stack of papers close to her chest as she did so. “Leira Cross, Editor in Chief of the Brightvale University Times and senior majoring in journalism. Who might you be?”
“Oh, I’m actually a post-grad student. Adult learner program for alumni, and all. I just wanted to come back to earn another deg-“
“That’s quite the name you’ve got there, huh?” she said as she gave Jacob a playful punch to the arm.
“I-It’s…Jacob. Moltaran gadgeteer and mechanic. Alumnus of the Mechanical Engineering program here.”
“So what’s an engineer doing trying out here?” said Leira. “I mean, most of the prospective reporters we get here are journalism students, or at least in a media major in general.”
“Well, I’m one semester away from completing an additional degree in linguistics…” he added.
“And you want to become more outspoken, especially since linguists tend to do a lot of scholarly work and presentations in front of folks like the Seekers, right?”
“You…got that pretty well, actually.”
“When you’ve been doing this thing for over four years, you tend to pick up a few things, kid.”
Kid? Jacob was at least three years her senior, easily. She certainly had spunk, he’d give her that. She was definitely sociable though.
“So, how would I go about…you know, signing up for news tryouts and –“
“You’re already hired.”
“E-excuse me?!” Jacob said as he almost jolted out of his skin.
“I see potential. Plus I kind of have the final say on these things anyway, so no harm done. I mean, you’ll only be here for one semester, so we may as well accommodate you if this is something you want to try.”
“That’s rather kind of you,” Jacob said, still processing what he was just told. “Thank you, Leira. So…where do I go from here?”
“You said you’re an engineer, right? I’ll tell you what. Someone on campus has been working on a really interesting device. Moltaran aesthetic and everything. It seems like it’d be right up your alley. Wanna cover it for this Friday?” She placed a flyer for the event in Jacob’s hands. On it was written the name of the student in question, as well as time and location information. Attached to the piece of paper was a lanyard, and on that lanyard, a press pass.
“Um, wow…that’s very – “
“Good to hear it! I’m sure it’ll turn out great,” Leira said as she gave Jacob a pat on the back. “Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s flyer time again,” she said as she booked it up the stairs and out the door before Jacob could even process anything.
Jacob continued to stare in awe at the flyer. He took the lanyard in his hand and held it up. Beneath the glossy plastic exterior of the pocket rested a slip of paper with “PRESS” written in bold capital letters. This was becoming all too real.
“What am I doing?” Jacob asked himself. He had absolutely no idea how to interview someone. He hadn’t an inkling how to properly format a news piece. This was even his first time encountering a lanyard, for Fyora’s sake.
Jacob stepped foot into the office of the Brightvale University Times. The newsroom was bustling. Papers were stacked on all of the desks, piled high enough to dwarf King Hagan himself. Reporters sat at typewriters, readying their stories for print. The aroma of roasted coffee ravaged the air, leaving no space unscented. At least one student was still sleeping on the office sofa from, presumably, a late night of finishing a story. Weewoos were flying to the roof of the building, dropping papers down a shaft that came to its end right in the office, where a pile started to form. One beat editor walked over and read the paper, and called on a reporter to investigate a lead. This was a place for receiving news tips, clearly. The room had not only a culture of its own, but a history. News spreads and cover pages adorned the wall space of the newsroom, framed. The amount of coverage they had was mind-boggling. Their paper had spreads dating back to the University’s founding. Now Jacob had to continue this mammoth legacy.
He didn’t have much else to do today, so he simply did what he did best: sat and observed, soaking in his surroundings to come up with a way to get this story done.
On another part of campus, Leira was continuing to put up flyers. She had noticed that one of her media professors, Professor Visio, a Tuskaninny, had walked up to her.
“Oh hey, what’s going on, Professor?” she asked.
“I…just wanted to give you a bit of a warning, actually,” he said. “The Board of Directors meeting didn’t go exactly as planned.”
Leira dropped her flyers. “But…what about the budget?”
“Leira, we’re not even certain we’re going to have media degrees here, not to mention the paper.” His voice trembled as he said this. “This place has always been more for the engineers, scientists, and philosophers, anyway. Sure, every now and then you get another Tobias Sigmir or Hovri Sweet, but they’re a rarity, and that was after they became famous regardless. Does anyone even remember News-A-Roo anymore?” the old Tuskaninny started to cry a bit. “I-I’m sorry, Leira. I just didn’t want to fail you or the other students.”
“We’ll fix this, Professor. Or we’ll go down trying. We just need to…to prove our worth.”
“Leira, I really do admire your passion and drive. The final meeting is at the end of the week. If you can find a way to save everything, it’d have to be by then. You realize this, right?”
“I’ll…just consider it an extra challenge. Hard mode,” she said. She put a hand on Professor Visio’s shoulder. “Everything’s going to be fine, sir.”
“Oh, I hope you’re right. Regardless, you have my complete support and faith,” he said with a small smile.
Back at the office, Jacob started compiling notes on everything he’d learned so far that day, and began feverishly studying them.
“Inverted pyramid style, don’t bury the lead,” he’d mutter to himself. “Get the sources straight, get good quotes.” His mantra was beginning to take root in his long term memory. Of course, theory and application are two different things. He noticed that Leira entered the office with an odd look in her eyes, but hey, the flyers were gone. That was a good sign.
Jacob walked up to her. “Okay, so I think I’m picking this up pretty well. I just wanted to clear something up. The story’s just for previewing the invention, correct?”
Leira had just refocused. “Previewing the – Oh, yes! Yeah, it’s just previewing it for the expo this weekend. Think of it less like a preview and more like…a feature, you know?” she said as she continued to her small office room. “I’ve gotta figure something out,” she muttered to herself. “I’m not letting everybody down…”
Later that day, Jacob’s time had finally arrived. He was to meet with the inventor in question. According to the research he did, this was a Scorchio named Augustus. It was just an old room in the engineering building. Jacob still knew the place like the back of his hand. Many a late night was spent in this building, studying right up until the sun rose to prepare for midterms. The door behind him opened as a stocky Scorchio in a purple sweater vest approached him, wheeling a cart with a sheet atop it along with him. “Are you Augustus?” Jacob asked, slightly nervous.
“That’d be me,” the Scorchio said, huffing a bit from lugging the mystery device around. “Jacob, I presume?”
“Yes…yes, that’s me,” he said. “So…what year are you, first of all?”
“Oh, a senior. The showcase is for engineering seniors, after all,” he said with a chuckle.
Critical research error. Naturally Jacob would mess up on the first question of the interview. He was even part of the same showcase during his senior year. “Right, right, my mistake,” he said.
“Not a problem at all. You don’t have to be so nervous, you know.”
“It’s…kind of easier said than done,” Jacob said.
“Fair enough,” said Augustus. “I just wanted to put it out there, is all. So I take it you want to know what’s behind the curtain?” he said with a grin.
“Yes, actually. I hear it’s Moltaran in nature?” asked Jacob. “I’m from Moltara myself, actually.” Jacob grinned sheepishly.
“No kidding, are you?” Augustus asked. “My grandfather lives there. But yes, it is. Take a look!” Augustus pulled back the sheet to reveal a heavy copper and steel contraption, with heating ducts and fans whirring. Gears on the sides turned to start the chain reaction from the inside. Compressed air was trapped behind thick glass on the other side. Jacob was awestruck.
“This is remarkable,” Jacob said. “So you made an improved model of the usual Moltaran geothermal energy system?”
“Yes sir!” Augustus said. “Three times as clean and efficient as the current method, and it’s able to go farther without cooling off due to the speed it produces.” He started to laugh.
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“All it took was a common interest, huh? Steam does have a way of breaking ice, after all.”
Puns. If only Stealth were here to hear this. But regardless, Augustus had a point. This was a story Jacob could write. There was a common interest at hand, and it allowed for easier conversation.
Back at the office, Leira sent off three more Weewoos with messages in their talons. “Please, just get back to me…” she whispered. Suddenly, a knock. Leira walked up to the door and noticed it was Jacob, grinning ear to ear. Letting him in, Leira motioned him to the chair opposite her desk. “Please, come in,” she said. She was clearly exhausted.
“Umm…everything okay?” Jacob asked.
“What do - oh yeah, I’m fine. Don’t worry,” she said, yawning and stretching her shoulders. “So what’s up?” she asked.
“I…I finished the article,” Jacob said.
“Well, I was pretty knowledgeable on the subject matter, so it came quite easily to me.”
Leira began to read over the story. “You know, for a first timer, this really IS pretty good,” she said. “I can tell you used the old style book though,” she said with a laugh.
“I…I didn’t think it’d make that much of a difference,” Jacob said, embarrassed.
“It’s not too big of a deal, though your Oxford Comma usage tipped me off that it was an old edition.” She continued reading. “Yeah, this honestly requires very little editing. Just a few things here and there, which I denoted in red. Good job, Jacob!” she said.
“That really does mean a lot coming from you,” he said. “That being said, you seem tired, so I’ll see myself out. Have a good evening,” he said. As Jacob walked down the hall, he realized he forgot one of his papers in Leira’s office. He went back to get It, but overheard something in her office while outside the door. Jacob was in shock. Leira had a habit of saying things aloud as she wrote them, so he learned immediately of the situation happening with the paper and the school’s media majors. It sounded as though she was writing a plea.
Somewhat awkwardly, Jacob walked into the room. “I, umm…dropped one of my papers,” he said. “I couldn’t help but overhear…”
“Just…please keep this a secret. I don’t want everyone else on the staff to know. They shouldn’t worry about this kind of thing.”
“I won’t say a word. Though, I need to know…who’s responsible for this? The Board of Directors?”
“The very same,” she said, putting her head in her hands. We media majors were always the black Babaas of the university. An institution known as the finest in Neopia for science, mathematics, engineering, philosophy, music, magic, literature, and stained glass making, but…not journalism. Any successful journalist to come from here was either a fluke, or famous beforehand…”
“I’m…I’m going to speak with them,” Jacob said. “This is just so wrong,” he added. “The work you guys do is so important.”
“Jacob, you don’t have to. I can handle th-“
“No, no, I need to do this. My conscience won’t be clear otherwise.” Jacob wished his head and heart would agree on this matter, though apparently his vocal cords agreed with the latter.
The next morning, Jacob was once again in Professor Lambert’s office. “Ah, Jacob, what a nice surprise. Is there something I can help you with?” he asked in his usual pleasant tone.
“Sir, I…I mean no disrespect, but I just need to ask. Why is the Board of Directors considering cutting out Media Studies and Journalism completely?”
Lambert was taken a bit aback by this. “I see you’re not as timid as you once were, so that’s a plus,” he said with a small chuckle. He then sighed. “For the record, Jacob, I voted to keep the program. I understand fully well how important the media is in our society, especially in getting our scholarly ideas out to the general public. It’s the others on the Board who don’t seem to understand that quite as well, regrettably.”
“There’s still time for them to be swayed, correct?” Jacob asked.
“There is, yes, but I lack any concrete evidence. Do you, perhaps?” asked Lambert. “I realize you were only on the staff for a short time, but maybe there’s something?”
“Actually yes, I came prepared.” Jacob pulled out his newest draft of his article. “This is going in the paper this Friday, the day the decision has to be made by.” He looked at his piece and smiled. “It’s about Augustus’ invention. If they can see firsthand how influential media attention is to discoveries like this, I’m hoping they change their minds.”
“Do you mind if I show it to them? We have a meeting later today, so I feel it could be of good use.”
“Of course, Professor Lambert,” Jacob said.
The wait for Friday was a painful one. The night before, Leira had briefed the rest of the staff about what was going on. Naturally, there were some tears, and many fears, among the peers. Many worried for their careers. However, they didn’t lose hope. Their hopes were all relying on Lambert at this point. The next day, Professor Visio entered the building and looked around. The room went completely silent as Leira motioned him to her office to discuss the outcome. Everyone else on the staff, Jacob included, waited in the lobby. After an agonizing fifteen minutes, only Visio re-emerged.
“I come bearing two pieces of news, everyone.” He let out an audible gulp. “First…we’re safe!” he yelled, sobbing with joy. “Lambert was able to convince the others after some deliberation. We get to keep our funding!” Everyone in the room cheered. Pets were hugging each other, one pet was hugging a whole flock of Weewoos at once, and almost everyone was overcome with emotion. “And I have one other piece of news…” he said. “Come on out, Leira.”
“Guys,” Leira said, struggling to find her words. “I…I got a job offer from the Neopian Times!” she screamed. All of her friends surrounded her for a big group hug while everyone who couldn’t find a place in the huddled mass clapped and cheered from their own places.
After the celebration at the office, Jacob took some time to check out the engineering showcase. It’d be awkward if he didn’t show up after writing the article, after all. That, and he had a vested interest in it, naturally. So many of these inventions absolutely blew his mind. Of course, Augustus’ was still his favorite. It hit all the right marks.
The turnout for this year was phenomenal. Deep down Jacob wanted to believe it was due to his article giving it more publicity, but that may have been aiming too high. He wasn’t a journalist, after all. He'd only done it to get the public speaking requirement done for his linguistics degree. But he wouldn’t give up that experience for the world; it truly helped him overcome talking to others (others that weren’t Stealth, anyway), and he made some more friends along the way. But Leira and the rest of the staff? They’d go places. They would be the flames that blaze eternal, and not the half-lit candle on the birthday cake, doomed to impermanence. Leira was already going places. The Neopian Times? What greater honor could there be?---
Happy Issue 700, everyone! And to all of you real-life journalists out there, know that your work is appreciated and admired. Here’s to 700 MORE issues!