Starting today, I will be taking over for Gili Remen as Smerconish.com’s next editor. I want to thank Gili for doing a fantastic job managing the website and elevating the diverse voices that make up our community of independent thinkers. I am honored and excited to take the baton and continue her work.
My career in journalism started several years ago, over 4,000 meters above sea level on the mountainous steps of the Himalayas. It was April 25th, 2015, and I had deferred my acceptance from the University of Pennsylvania to take a “gap year” traveling around the world. A little before noon, I was descending the slopes of the Annapurna mountain range when a 7.8 Richter-scale earthquake struck central Nepal and took nearly 9,000 lives with it. Over the coming weeks, I saw nothing short of a humanitarian disaster – millions of Nepalis lost their homes and plunged many into extreme poverty. While assisting in the relief effort over the following weeks, I came in contact with international news crews and journalists from across the world who brought the disaster to the forefront of international news. Witnessing their work was a transformative moment in my life and ignited my passion for spreading the truth and sharing stories.
Months later, I was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. I joined WQHS, Penn’s student-run radio station, and had my radio show “The Jam Jar,” airing Friday mornings from midnight to two in the morning where I shared my love for punk rock and politics. During that time, a friend of mine, an editor for a little-known travel magazine called Stamped, heard about my Nepal experience and compelled me to tell my story in the magazine’s upcoming edition. My account, “After the Quake,” was my first published article. The following semester, I joined The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s lauded student newspaper, as a lowly general assignments reporter. Journalism quickly became an all-encompassing part of my life. During my Penn years, I went on to work for WHYY, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Philadelphia Citizen, among others. Upon graduating from Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication in May of 2019, I was honored with the Carolyn Marvin Award for “advancing our understanding of the importance of free speech and assembly in a democratic society.”
This past year, I worked as a fellow for ArtistYear, the first and only service program in the country dedicated to addressing the ‘Arts Education Gap’ in underserved communities. In my role as a creative writing fellow at a low-income high school in North Philadelphia, I integrated creative writing into the school’s core curriculum and coached its slam poetry team. The coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended my time in the classroom, but ArtistYear quickly formed a partnership with Google Classroom and PBS to create virtual art lessons for K-12 students across the country. The real value of my work came from helping children use writing to express their emotions and control their own narrative.
As I sit here writing this to you, I cannot fathom what will happen in the coming months. This time last year, I couldn’t even dream that the world would be gripped by a pandemic, distancing us from our friends and family. With the Presidential Election on the horizon, there is no telling what twists and turns we will endure. Still, I have faith that our community will examine today’s issues with skepticism, respect, and intelligence.
I joined the Smerconish team because I strongly believe in elevating the voices of those who exist between the polar extremes – our “exhausted majority.” The state of our discourse is dominated by extreme polarization and where unbiased information is the exception, not the norm. In the face of these challenges, I invite you to join me in making our community of independent thinkers stronger than ever before.
If you have ideas, thoughts, or just saying hi, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Meadows | Editor