What I Learned about Journalism as a Teenager

As some of you may know, I didn’t go to college. Sure, I took some classes at a local CUNY school but that was just to appease my parents. I decided early on to chart my own course and not spend most or all of my life with student debt.

I wasn’t a fan of traditional education anyway. I cruised through four years of high school without bringing home a book once. Got straight A’s. When I got to those college classes, I was faced with the reality that I’d have to exert myself on something that just didn’t matter to me.

What really mattered to me back then was my martial arts skills. So, I opted to delegate my energies in that direction. I’d leave my apartment for “college,” but instead take the train to the kung fu school to get some extra training time in with my sifu before the actual class commenced.

But this post is not about Wing Chun. It’s about training to be a “journalist.”

I ostensibly signed up at Baruch College to major in journalism. But when I took the entrance exam for CUNY, I scored high enough to be placed into “advanced” courses that were oddly required for such a degree. For example, I found myself in a high-level math course with classmates much older than me who were planning on business careers. It made no sense. Why was I twisting my brain into a pretzel to master useless formulas when I planned on being a writer?

I was able to get myself into a journalism course taught by an older white professor named Marks. Again, I was the youngest student in the class. Marks had us read a book called Dispatches, by Michael Herr. I recall it being a brutal, firsthand account of fighting in the Vietnam War.

Marks chose that assignment to teach us about “reality.” Herr’s prose is brimming with what might be called “vulgar” language. So, Marks took to cursing all of us out in class to “set a vibe” by “toughening” us up. So, it was “fuck this” and “fuck that” from him — every class. Trust me, it was as laughable as it sounds.

I quickly realized that, between the math class and this so-called writing course, I’d be a college dropout very, very soon.

One day, Marks was cursing up a storm and I was bored. So, I took out that day’s New York Post, flipped it over, and started perusing the sports pages. When Marks noticed, he wigged out.

“Put that fuckin’ newspaper away!” he bellowed at me. Everyone turned in my direction as the classroom went silent. Eighteen-year-old me looked up at him and smiled. “Fuck off,” I quietly replied. You know, “setting a vibe” and all.

Marks turned red and demanded: “Get the fuck out of my classroom!”

I stood and stared him down. Suddenly, no more cursing from Mr. Vibe. Gathering my stuff, I moved toward the door. “You wouldn’t last one minute in a real confrontation,” I told the professor, “never mind in a war zone.”

That was the last time I ever set foot in Professor Marks’ classroom. I didn’t fully realize it at the time but he did teach me something quite important:

Journalism is a show, a charade. And the moment someone puts down the script and improvises, they’re censored, silenced, and banned.

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.