Criminology, Journalism, and Post-Concussion Syndrome: About Me, Aaron Jacklin
Post-concussion syndrome ended my journalism career. For a while, that’s eclipsed everything else, but I’m trying to change that.
I’m also a dad, a writer, an editor, and an amateur coder. I’ve worked in nonprofit news and as a criminological research assistant. I’ve done other things too, but most of that wasn’t as interesting.
It’s difficult to pin down one single influence that brought me to criminology, though the biggest is undoubtably that I knew many crime victims and their family members.
I also grew up in a hunting family, which sensitized me to the gun control issue. As a teenager in the late 1990s, I read Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, and it, along with other books by FBI profilers, introduced me to the idea that crime was studied in structured ways.
Perhaps oddly, a martial arts background also played a factor. I earned a first degree black belt and taught in the dojo while I was in high school. Knowing many crime victims, as I mentioned above, I had a special interest in teaching self defense.
Finally, I was profoundly affected by the news coverage of the World Trade Center bombing (1993), the Oklahoma City bombing (1995), and the Columbine High School shooting (1999).
All of that lead me to criminology just as I was preparing to graduate high school, and I applied to a number of university programs as a result. (I think I’d already applied before Columbine.)
I was originally attracted to criminology because I wanted to learn about crime to be better able to teach self defense.
However, as I studied and learned, I had a number of perspective shifts that changed my intentions. I went through a period where I wanted to work in corrections, then criminology or criminal justice research, then criminal justice policy, then political lobbying, then journalism.
I originally became interested in journalism because I enjoyed writing fiction and I kept coming across authors I liked who had been journalists first.
Then I wrote a paper for a class about political ethics and corruption where I had to take a stance on whether the news media merely were in it to sell news or whether they had another purpose.
I went into the assignment thinking the first, but found something far different. The turning point was when I came across the first or second edition of The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. As an intro and primer, the American Press Institute’s page on the book and the 10 elements of good journalism is worth reading.
I walked into the campus newspaper office for the first time on Sept. 12, 2001. It seemed clear to me that Muslims were already being dehumanized and I wanted to research and write an article about that. Life got in the way and that piece never happened. Early in 2002, I started copy editing for the same paper, then wrote opinion, then wrote news, all as a volunteer. I was hired onto staff the year after I graduated from my criminology program.
I planned to become a professional journalist and write about crime the way that science journalists covered cancer research and other topics.
After working for a year at the paper, I went to “j-school” (journalism school). I worked in community news briefly, but couldn’t stand working for a for-profit news corporation.
Instead, I went to grad school for a master’s in criminology to better inform the reporting I planned to do. At grad school, my personal research topic was focused on theorizing how online news practices could lead to better explanations of crime appearing in online crime news. Yes, it was a bit out there, especially in the final years of the 21st century’s first decade.
While in grad school, I also worked as a research assistant for a lab studying intimate partner violence. First, I worked in data collection, combing through closed prosecutorial case files of assault and other charges laid in cases of intimate partner violence, condensing and summarizing each case. Later, I worked downstream in data entry, taking the files generated during collection and entering them into a dataset for later analysis by the lead researchers. As you would hope, this work was highly confidential, so I can’t discuss it. I will say I saw evidence of a lot of horrible things and was honoured to play a small part in furthering our understanding of intimate partner violence.
After grad school, I was broke, so I took a job as a technical editor with a large tech company. The idea was to spend a few years making money with my day job while saving to transition to freelance journalism, where I would do the kind of crime and criminal justice reporting I thought would help inform policy.
Instead, I slipped and slammed my head on pavement one icy night.
This changed everything.
The concussion symptoms that fade within the first few days to a few months in most people remained for me. This means that for years, I’ve been living with problems in vision, executive function, and chronic pain from soft-tissue damage.
It stops me from living a “normal life,” let alone work as the kind of journalist I had trained to be.
I was in denial about this for a long time, returning to the working world in a less demanding role on the business side of the same nonprofit campus newspaper I’d worked at before. I performed well enough to be promoted into a limited, but more overall leadership role. Partly due to not having fully acknowledged the extent of my condition, I struggled to perform as well as I should have. Returning to work too early not only halted my recovery in its tracks, but actually made things worse as time went on.
Stress from work lead to a prolonged medical leave that forced me to confront and accept the extent of my condition. While I’ve recently left that job, my medical leave never ended.
I’m beginning again, writing a few hours a week as I learn what I’m capable of now. My work here on Medium is part of that. My doctors now tell me that full recovery isn’t in the cards, but that I should aim at learning strategies and accommodations for mitigating my symptoms, which may let me return to full-time work.
I’m trying. We’ll see.