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Incoming Editor on the Inspirations of Journalism

Peter Jennings at the Peabody Awards luncheon in May of 2002. (Photo Credit: ANDERS KRUSBERG / PEABODY AWARDS)

Peter Jennings was the first person to teach me about the concept of death. I never met the man, and yet he taught me that important human lesson we now take for granted as adults, and so much more. Given that we’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the great broadcast journalist’s death, I thought I’d use my own introduction as The Commuter’s incoming Editor-In-Chief to celebrate the man, his work, and the inspirations of journalism.

Barely five-years-old when NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded moments after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, I sat on my father’s lap watching ABC News’s special report that afternoon. A high school teacher, Christina McAuliffe, was among the seven crew members who perished, humanizing this live-on-TV tragedy as mechanical information was gone over, with little short-term answer as to why this particular shuttle had failed so quickly. As a five-year-old, I interacted daily with only two adult authority factions: My parents, and teachers.

In the mythology I’ve created in my head Mr. Jennings spoke directly to children at one point, understanding that they would be watching not only because this occurred live on television, but because it was well known at the time that a teacher—McAuliffe—was onboard. I can find no verification to this online, but in my mind’s eye I can see Jennings on the thirteen inch TV screen that day in my tiny row home, tactfully explaining the passing of McAuliffe and her six companions. To that child, influenced by images from that small, square box as much as by interactions with adults in real life, Jennings was speaking directly to me. Authoritative, informative, clear, compassionate, yet professional.

My lifelong friend, Kevin Kiernan, has long said, “John was raised by the TV.” This is not factually true, and yet, the statement is also not untrue in spirit. I was, and remain, a child of media. Before the Internet, smart phones, direct downloads, E-books, DVDs, or access to cable television, I was and remain a keen observer of news and culture through the lenses of devices. Only the size and delivery have changed. And for the first twenty-four years of my life, more times than not, it was Jennings fulfilling that curiosity.

Peter Jennings embodies the qualities of an information sharer that inspire me, as other’s did after him. Malcom Gladwell: The brilliant author who paired relatable human narrative with sociological and statistical study to demystify concepts that we hold as nebulous facts. Chuck Klosterman: A writer who has spent much of his life using popular culture as a laboratory for studying why we like what we like, think how we think, and interact how we interact. There are others, too, that would knowingly nod along to the Jennings quote—I’m paraphrasing here—“when I see a coin I instinctively want to flip it over and see what’s on the other side.”

There are no static truths, no true “black-and-white” issues, and Jennings was game to explore these curiosities and not rush to judgment on anything. That too, is a byproduct of an analytical thinker. An information sharer, as I termed it above. Collectively, we call them journalists.

For my part, I’ll be taking over the Editor-In-Chief position from the multi-talented Stephanie Giannakis, who has, and continues, to accomplish so many wonderful things for The Commuter. Stephanie will be staying on staff, more than likely picking me up off the ground whenever I have trouble, but primarily focusing on our website.

We tend to read our news online now, not on printed paper, and yet the same rules still apply. I pledge to you, our readership, that The Commuter will continue to be curious. We will continue to seek the truth and report it to you, as professionally and unbiased as possible.

You might notice throughout this article there are links to videos you can watch to further enhance your knowledge of topics discussed in said articles. We have great plans to expand into other platforms of information delivery, over time, and we’d love for you to share in that journey.

I hear so much of what is horrible about the internet, and yet nearly all the world’s information can be accessed from it. As I often tell my nephews when they have a question: “You have a magic box in your pocket. We all do now. So you can look it up, as many sources as possible, and use your critical thinking skills to figure out the truth.” That is somewhat of a more sanitized and better worded version of what I say, but the “magic box” part, and the message of information gathering, is true. As usual, Peter Jennings said it better. “I get up every day thinking that something is going to happen in the world that I didn’t know about yesterday, and I have the opportunity to pass some of that on to the audience.”