I want to make one thing clear: I do not think “journalism is dead.” In fact, I think journalism is the ‘Madonna’ of professions; it will get face lifts until it outlives us all. This is a post about my decision to stop trying to be a journalist.
I’ve figured it out. For the past 6 years I’ve been a writer trapped in journalist’s body. I went to the big name journalism school and got the straight As. Upon graduation I said to myself, “Self, you need to get rid of your Freshman 15, you’re three years out of Freshman year and it is not becoming on you. Also, do you want to be a journalist or a writer?”
When it came to deciding between being poor and being broke, I chose poor. I accepted my first job as journalist for a small blog and “reported” my little heart out. But soon something didn’t quite add up. I had the independence and a sliver of financial stability, but I didn’t feel good. So I quit in the pursuit of happiness.
Soon I got a second job as a journalist, but this one was different. It was for an animation company where I was free to make jokes and put my personality into my writing. I loved it! I found the perfect combination between comedy and journalism. I was having my cake, eating it AND going back for seconds. I dropped everything for work. I spent hours in the office perfecting my headlines, my voice overs, my stories. But as the workload increased, I found I could no longer keep up. I tried. I came in earlier, I stayed later, I worked on weekends. Scared I wasn’t pulling my weight, I went to my boss and told him how I felt.
“Make deadlines, not art,” was his response.
After I admitted that I could not hit the deadlines needed to put out our long-form, satirical news pieces, I was moved to our serious stories. Guess what I figured out? Journalism is the worst! I mean if you’re not reporting about which Kardashian is pregnant, then you’re reporting about a baby that was shot in the head. Here is an example of the list of stories we published one day:
- Private jet crashes into Indiana houses killing two
- At least 10 dead in Somalia car bomb
- Iran launches new warship in Caspian Sea
- Six men arrested in gang rape of Swiss tourist in India
- British father and son in fatal accident on Mont Blanc
- Two killed after race car careens into pit lane in California
- Two inmates escape from Quebec prison in helicopter
- Gold shop worker splashes acid on armed robber
- Experienced Australian pilot killed in replica Spitfire crash
If there is a mass shooting or natural disaster you can feel a buzz of excitement in the office! I’ve heard actual sighs of disappointment when we learned nobody died in a building collapse. One time I asked my manager how he was able to cope with all the depressing things we covered each day. He rolled his eyes and fanned his hand — palm in the air — across all of my sloppy coworkers (we were at our usual watering hole), “Why do you think everyone drinks so much?”
PAUSE. As a Russian, and a drinker, I would never pass judgement on anyone’s alcohol consumption. I will pass judgement on the reason for their alcohol consumption. I think alcohol is for celebration, joy and silliness, not to forget the stresses of your life. UNPAUSE.
I am not saying journalists are monsters, but the atmosphere of today’s society — everything has to be first, loud and sensational — is taking the discretion out of journalism. Sensational stories have always been a part of the dark underbelly of journalism. But with the saturation of news providing platforms on the market, these sensational stories are multiplying, rising, strengthening and trending. Now machines and buttons inhabit journalist’s tool boxes. Clicks are King. The smartest journalists not only know this rule, but they respect it. Smart journalists like my boss.
My boss is a brilliant writer. My respect for him is boundless. He is a journalist who has become a successful and wealthy businessman. As a businessman it is his main objective to make revenue. How do you make revenue? Clicks. Remember? Clicks are King. So that is why this smart businessman, who has unmatched journalistic talent and writing skills that I can only dream of, wrote a piece about Justin Bieber’s mustache last week. HIS MUSTACHE for christ sake.
I am not saying that all journalism is bad. I am saying that most popular “journalism” is bad. You can’t blame the writers though, we’re scared into it. We’re the ones writing stories about the poor job market, we’re the ones sitting in classes which have adopted the motto, “Journalism is dead.” That’s why when we find a job that remotely carries even just the slightest essence of journalism we gently bend at the waist, place our elbows upon our desk and let the Clicks have their way with our posterior.
I’ve done it. I was pissed when someone else got to the “Miley Cyrus Twerking” story before I did. Plenty of journalism graduates were upset they didn’t get to cover how a 20-year-old Nashvillian made love to a foam finger. I would love to be the kind of person who stands up to this nonsense, gives my own version of the foam finger to the Clicks and practices hard hitting, life changing journalism that makes people stop and reevaluate everything they’ve known up until that second. The problem is, I am just not smart enough and my grammar skills are questionable. But, the light at the end of the tunnel: my coworkers, my peers and my idols are smart enough, are talented enough and are driven enough to change the space of journalism. That’s why I am stepping aside and making room for the real journalists. The exciting thing is, a lot of the journalists I graduated with are striving for that golden cloud of good reporting. But it’s not enough! We need more.
Maybe I didn’t get high enough on the journalism-totem-pole. Maybe stories about David Beckham’s facial hair are the morning fluff pieces of our generation. Maybe there really is better reporting down the line and I just didn’t make it there. What I do know is there are plenty of intelligent reporters who are not doing intelligent reporting. Be honest, how many of you have lost a little piece of your soul when hitting the “publish” button?
As for you non-journos out there who are reading these awful stories. You! Yeah, you! The one clicking the story about Jennifer Anniston’s weight gain. I see you. STOP IT! C’mon. You’re better than this. Don’t get me wrong, in quiet, dark places I am one of you, but I am trying to stop. I’ve found some ways to deal with the urges to click on these banal stories and I am willing to share them with you:
1. Jog to the nearest grocery store, newspaper stand or teenager’s bedroom and pick up a magazine. Why not burn calories and brain cells at the same time! You can even buy it and invite friends over. Lord knows that industry needs the extra eyes. Use your mouth to communicate how you feel about Lindsay Lohan’s butt hole.
2. Okay, if you don’t have the time or energy for option 1. I have another solution. At least do this much: For every fluff-piece you click on, click (and preferably read) two well-reported, intelligent and long-form news stories.
This morning I was talking to my little brother’s girlfriend. She is a freshman at my alma mater, Mizzou (GO TIGERS!), and she peppered me with questions about the J-school and journalism in general. I laughed at her excitement and instantly hated myself for doing so. I muted my instinct to tell her run in the other direction, switch majors, become a stripper — ANYTHING besides journalism.
PAUSE. Sorry. This rant in no way reflects my feelings towards Mizzou. I could not have picked a better college or journalism program. UNPAUSE.
Running away from something is never the solution. Unless your problem is a mugger. Then yes, run. GO! NOW! But for this particular problem, the solution is rolling up your sleeves, sticking your hands in the motherboard and jostling the wires until things fall into place.
I told her to study hard and ask lots of questions. I told her that the journalism industry is constantly changing and reshaping. I told her if she has the drive and talent, she can make it in any profession.