Why Do We Discount the Career Achievements of the Young?

The young journalist Armando Montaño is being remembered for his "promise" and "aspirations." But what about the work he did?

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Eduardo Verdugo / AP

In this June 4, 2012, photo, Armando Montaño, 22, poses for an ID photo at the Associated Press office in Mexico City

There is no greater dishonor when reflecting on the death of a young journalist than by referring to them as aspiring. It happened on Monday when news broke that Armando “Mando” Montaño, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Grinnell College and intern with the Associated Press in Mexico City, was found dead in an elevator shaft. Word of his death rocked social networks and prompted friends to write tributes to him that went viral in minutes.

It was the second time in six weeks for news like this: Marina Keegan, also 22, had just graduated from Yale when she was killed in a late-May car accident in Massachusetts. Within hours of her death, she too was heavily portrayed as an “aspiring” or “promising” writer. Yet, in both cases, they had more than proved themselves: Keegan, a longtime Yale Daily News columnist, had already landed a staff position with the New Yorker; and Montaño, who was an editor at Grinnell’s Scarlet & Black and had interned with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times and the Seattle Times, voluntarily threw himself into one of the world’s most dangerous reporting spots. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that since 2006, at least 45 journalists have either disappeared or been killed in Mexico.

(MORE: Can Mexico’s Presidential Hopefuls Stop the Bodies Piling Up?)

What’s aspiring about that? At 22, they both had careers that many of their peers envied. Much of the shock surrounding their deaths comes from the fact that they died so young and in too tragic a way. They’re remembered by friends for their wit and determination, and by their former colleagues for their promise. Richard Berke, an assistant managing editor at the New York Timessaid Montaño’s “potential was truly limitless.” Weeks after Keegan’s death, author Jack Hitt recalled a recent meeting with her and ended his tribute with, “We lost a talent before we got to know her.”

The passion that these two had for an industry that’s adapting to new technologies, but which some say is dying in the process, is being met with an unintended disrespect that could turn students away from trying to get into journalism in the first place. Despite years of experience, aspiring is being continuously and wrongly substituted for young in articles that are meant to memorialize them. It’s dangerous but avoidable.

(MORE: Somebody’s Gotta Get Hired, Right?)

Last week, Ann Friedman, a recently laid-off GOOD magazine editor, wrote a column for Nieman Journalism Lab that was full of advice for journalism-school graduates attempting to navigate the first few years of their professional careers. In between tips for constructing a résumé that points out their more desirable qualities and a brief explanation for writing each article three different ways is Friedman’s clearest attempt at reaching her audience: “Never describe yourself as an ‘aspiring’ anything.”

It’s not right to harp on Montaño and Keegan’s ages when, instead, respect should be paid to their work and efforts to tell stories that others either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Each May, tens of thousands of graduates seek employment in the industries they spent years studying, and a significant portion are unable to find a job. Despite daily reports of journalism’s woes, here were two 22-year-olds who chose to try their luck anyway, and it paid off. They died too soon into their careers, but to label them aspiring now would be like not mentioning their work at all.

18 comments
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facebook-749911534
facebook-749911534

nobody can see the future, but all the circumstantial evidence points to it NOT being accident. Young 22 year old men just do not die by accident, unless it is a proven SEEn boating accident in open air,or a car crash witnessed by others. Most likely, he was murdered. Ask Columbo: too many clues point to an unfortunate murder most foul. SIGH

facebook-749911534
facebook-749911534

maybe "career achievements" should be put in scare quotes, whatever SCARE QUOTES are, and for whatever reason they are incorrectly called SCARE quotes? In this case, they might be better called FLAG QUOTES as in to flag something in an article, or SPOT quotes, as in the SPOTLIGHT a certain phrase or word that might need further explaining. SCARE QUOTES is the wrong term, and someone needs to rectify the situation vis a vis scare quotes. They are NOT scary at all, and the term was coined over 100 years ago for reasons nobody knows, not even the PHDs who use the term in class and in their "academic" papers. Google "scare quotes" + "dan bloom" to learn more. and don't be afraid: I don't bite. -- danny bloom, 1949-2032

thelionleo
thelionleo

aspiring is synonymous to potential. it means that so much is ahead of them had it not been for the circumstances. aspiring is still the best word to describe. what the author tries to convey is that they had already served their purpose and that they deserved to die. 

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gvanderleun
gvanderleun

 “No greater dishonor”?   Utter nonsense. I regret this young man's death but blathering on falsely won't help him at all and it only reinforces how callow and unexperienced Katz was, is, and remains. Hogwash is not the stuff from which to fashion monuments.

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Talendria
Talendria

The greatest dishonor would be to ignore their passing altogether which probably happens frequently in China and North Korea.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

young and idealist ... thought he would not die and he did.

The winner are those who survive, I am sure he was a good journalist .. the reality is however that all those who twitted in a frenzy in fact do not care about the drug cartels war and journalists' death in Mexico .. they tweet in scandal... then forget botu ti and move on to the next day .. not caring at all.

of course they complain when the news in the US no longer are much worthy 

Nate Jones
Nate Jones

This is a great point, but I think it would be strengthened if you linked to some of the actual work they produced?