My New Strange Love: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love [PR]

Almost everyone I know is aware that from a very young age, my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was always “a journalist.” While I have not given up on journalism altogether, I have done a lot of introspection over the past year, and have concluded that I will no longer be actively pursuing this career path.

It is not because I was influenced by Kai Nagata’s quarter-life crisis that resulted in his exit from one of Canada’s top broadcast organizations (more on that later). I just realized that, even though I can have it, I’m pretty sure I don’t want a journalist’s lifestyle.

Since I was a child, I have been interested in the written word. I thought Rory from Gilmore Girls was one of the coolest protagonists (she studied Journalism at Yale!). And boy, do I love to read. In Grade 7, some friends and I put together a crude school newspaper using scissors and glue. In high school, I helped organize, edit and produce a newspaper as well (although it was a tiny production with only a handful of writers and five issues). Finally, in my senior year, I spent my spring break at CBC Radio and The Georgia Straight completing an internship.

At UBC, I immediately jumped straight into The Ubyssey Student Newspaper, eventually becoming their News Editor. I had influence over those around me, people looked to me for information, and I got to interview athletes at the 2010 Olympic Games. I read and reread course descriptions offered at journalism grad schools on a weekly basis. It seems that I was poised to enter the journalism industry (I suppose I still am…?).

All things considered, what changed? When I was immersed in the daily struggle of producing a newspaper, I loved it. I loved it so much. Long hours? Low pay? Whatever—I was making a difference and having an impact on those around me. During my final year at UBC, however, I stopped volunteering at The Ubyssey and focused wholeheartedly on my studies—and while I was “cut off” from the journalism world, something changed. Journalism began to look like less and less of an awesome career option, and more of a difficult and painful journey with little return.

I began hearing of graduates from UBC’s journalism school who could not find jobs in the industry. I read stories about how newspapers are dying, no one listens to the radio anymore, and that journalists have not yet found a way to utilize the Internet for profit. Moreover, as I explored internship opportunities, I found that they were few and far between—more deterring was that many of them were unpaid. As a recent graduate with student loans, I could not afford to move to the Yukon to become a full-time unpaid intern.

I read about how journalists are always stressed out, and how many of them work ridiculously long and odd hours. OH Newsroom no longer seemed funny. I considered the benefits—not all journalists are fat, stressed out alcoholics, or poor (see my mentors, Adrienne Arsenault and Jan Wong), but the cons won. I started to calculate how much debt I would accumulate, and how much time my journalism career would eat up—leaving no time to raise a family (at least until I paid my dues). Arsenault travels all the time, and Wong struggled with depression—did I want to do that?

You’re going to say that I’m lazy and a quitter. It’s not that I am incapable of working hard to be a journalist, it’s that I don’t want to. I feel like the pride that comes with the job is overshadowed by the long and arduous road that it takes to get there. I also don’t like the instability that comes with being a journalist; it’s not part of my personality. I’m sociable and love trying new things, but am a one-city kind of person.

Journalism is also a shallow world, full of mantras such as “if it leads, it bleeds,” and frankly, I’m not comfortable with buying in. Sure, Nagata is arrogant and gave up a good thing, but I agree with some of his comments. I can’t separate myself from my job; I don’t know if I can be “all right” with these aspects of journalism. These sentiments are the part of Nagata’s post that resonate.

Also, I also agreed with Nagata’s comments about the commercialism of the journalism industry. For example, there’s Claude Adams’ post on how he claims he was fired from his job for a simple mistake. After relating his story, Adams goes on to say:

“Animal stories are, along with murder, fires, sex, celebrities and weather, the staples of television ‘action news’ fare, if you believe the style-over-substance gurus at Frank N. Magid Associates who have advised the CBC and other networks for decades. If the stories aren’t powerfully visual (i.e. the bulls at Pamplona, Anthony Weiner’s crotch, Lady Gaga’s meat dress, police car lights flashing over a corpse on a darkened street, etc.), they probably won’t make the local news. It’s got to sizzle to get into the 6 o’clock lineup. Media scholars call it the victory of “information mechanics” over journalism, entertainment trumping news.

…This is something I have a hard time accepting. It’s something that I’ve tried to ignore, but when it permeates a university newsroom, you start to pay attention.

I have heard that people my age nowadays hold a job for an average of three years. If you consider Nagata’s decision, it makes sense. Yet, while Nagata quit to pursue other interests…or just to prolong the “real world” just a little bit longer by going on a road trip, I think the more applicable third variable is that there is immense pressure placed on our generation to become a “jack-of-all-trades.” Whether the Masters is the new Bachelors, or if it’s just a myth, there is no doubt that employers are more selective when it comes to hiring. Those in my age group tend to work harder and take on more degrees and certifications in order to become “hireable.” This is due to the economy, the job market, growing populations, cost of living, etc.

From Here [Hey, UBC!]

So what now? I’ve decided to no longer have tunnel vision, but to instead pursue some kind of job in the media industry. If you want me to suggest a specific “job title,” I’d tell you, “Communications Manager.” Wait, aren’t I selling out? PR reps do the bidding of their bosses; there’s no room for individual opinion! Where’s freedom of the press? From experience/observation, journalists are also limited in what they can say/write. What if you’re a leftie and you work for The National Post? Journalists still represent their employer publication. Journalism is by no means objective, and anyone who disagrees needs a harsh wake-up call.

For you journalists: by no means am I trying to say that you are an idiot for doing what you want to do.  I have some friends who are very successful, and I know they will “make it,” or have already done so. I am simply saying that I’m not so sure it’s for me anymore. The world still needs journalists, no matter what the industry becomes. And those people are more independent and gutsy than I am.

I arrived at journalism as a career option because it allowed me to do what I love: share information, make a difference, write, lead. I’m slowly starting to realize that there are other jobs out there that will let me do these things. To be clear, I’m not giving up on being a journalist—I will just no longer be devoting all of my efforts to becoming one. And surprisingly, I’m OK with that.

Posted on July 15, 2011, in Blog, General, Journalism, Post-Secondary, UBC and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Have to agree with you on many points! Best of luck with everything. I have to go into the real world in a year and I’m pondering all of these things!

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