It takes a certain type of person to stand all day by the six well-marked composting bins inside her college campus center, notebook in hand, asking her fellow students if they knew that their carefully discarded trash was actually not being composted at all.

“Some people were like, ‘Oh, that kind of sucks,'” recalled Kristen Waite. “Some were a little more outraged.”

Kristen Waite

God save the student journalists.

Waite, who grew up in Turner and graduated last year from Hebron Academy, is about to begin her sophomore year at Ithaca College in upstate New York.

She’s a double major – journalism and environmental studies. But spend an hour sipping Starbucks coffee with her and you’ll soon detect a passion for the printed word that goes all the way back to middle school.

“I didn’t want to write novels. I didn’t want to write short stories,” Waite said. “Or poems.”


She wants to write the news. And now more than ever, we should all be thankful for her and others like her.

Today, more than 200 newspapers across the nation – including this one – are responding to a call by The Boston Globe to push back hard with editorials condemning President Trump’s endless attacks on journalists as “enemies of the people” and “dangerous and sick” purveyors of “fake news.”

It can’t come soon enough. While journalism has long been a punching bag for politicians and con artists looking to deflect and distract from their own skullduggery, these are indeed perilous times.

Don’t like the truth? No problem – simply deny it.

Facts don’t fit your world view? Ignore them.

Can’t handle the latest revelation about a political system gone mad? Blame the messenger.


Why, then, would any young person in his or her right mind want to embark on a career notorious for its low pay, crazy hours and, lately, heightened hostility fanned by none other than the man in the White House?

“I would say that it drives me forward,” Waite replied.

She’s one of seven journalism students awarded a total of just under $200,000 in scholarships this year by the Guy P. Gannett Scholarship Fund through the Maine Community Foundation (full disclosure: my wife works for the foundation). Six of the students, including Waite, are repeat recipients.

“They doubled it this year,” she said, still not quite believing it. “When I opened (the scholarship award) this summer, I sat in the car crying.”

Waite understands that journalism is not for the shy or fainthearted.

She’s encountered her share of upraised eyebrows when she tells folks in her rural central Maine hometown what she’s studying.


“Oh, so you’re a liberal,” more than a few reply.

And even back at school, of the four or five friends she made last year within Ithaca’s internationally renowned Roy. H. Park School of Communications, she’s the only one sticking with her major.

“A lot of people don’t realize what journalism entails,” she said. “If you’re only in it to be on TV one day, you’re probably not going to have what it takes. I personally am not interested in broadcast, but a lot of my friends were.”

She’s interested in writing. Factual writing.

Last year, Waite landed a byline on Page 1 of the Ithacan, the college’s weekly newspaper, with an investigative look at deferred maintenance.

“Which seems like a really dull subject,” she conceded with a smile.


Still, as she dug into why so many students were getting stuck on campus elevators and why so many dorm bathrooms were showing their age, she learned a ton about outside contracting and how the college goes about maintaining its infrastructure – or not.

Now, as she wraps up her summer waitressing job and prepares to head back to school, Waite says she feels more confident about asking the tough questions, doing the deep-dive research and, above all, keeping her ear to the ground for stories worth pursuing.

She’s also eager to revisit those not-really-composting bins – which she first heard about via a tip from a friend with connections to the college’s sustainability committee.

Because the spring semester was almost over and Waite hadn’t finished reporting the story, she and her editor agreed to hold it until fall. If the composting signs – she calls them “false advertising” – are still in place come September, look out.

“I’m really anxious to see if they fixed it,” Waite said.

Looking beyond college, she can see herself melding her two majors and zeroing in on climate change – a beat that not only expands by the day, but also sits at the very epicenter of the raging war on reality.


What does she say to those who, even now, refuse to believe that the warming planet and all that comes with it are the direct result of human activity?

“It is a fact,” Waite replied with conviction. “Humans are causing today’s climate change. And I guess the only way to address it with a population that doesn’t agree is to give them a specific example of something in their lives that it’s going to affect or is already affecting.”

Still, she admitted, “It’s kind of scary that a story I write in the future isn’t going to reach half the population because they refuse to have an open mind. They’ll just say, ‘Fake news! Fake news!’ ”

Her response will be to “work harder.” To keep her own mind open as she wades into each story. To raise the difficult issue – not as a cudgel, but as an invitation to dialogue with those who may want only to be heard.

“If we’re ever going to get all sides of this really polarized population to listen to journalism, it needs to be unbiased,” Waite said. “And it needs to present all the facts that are relevant. And it needs to show that journalism isn’t just for the left or just for the right. It’s for everyone.”

And that’s the truth.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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