I love journalism more than anything else, but I can’t be sure I love it enough to stay.
There was a time when I thought I’d be a journalist my whole life — or, rather, there was a time when I thought I could trust myself to stay a journalist my whole life.
I’ve pored over two blog posts lately that wouldn’t have moved me if I could still fully trust that part of me.
First I read the piece everyone’s been reading, Allyson Bird’s Why I left news, and it broke my heart. Then I read author Mimi Johnson — wife of journalist Steve Buttry — on a time when she thought her husband would finally defect, and it broke my heart more.
“When I go to parties, I no longer can introduce myself as a reporter and watch people’s eyes light up. Instead, I hear how people miss seeing my byline. No one misses it more than I.
News was never this gray, aging entity to me. It was more like young love, that reckless attraction that consumes you entirely, until one day — suddenly — you snap out of feeling enamored and realize you’ve got to detach. I left news, not because I didn’t love it enough, but because I loved it too much — and I knew it was going to ruin me.”
And here’s Mimi, who headed her post with a quote from Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind: “Did it ever occur to you that even the most deathless love can wear out?”:
“So who would want to be a journalist? It has always been work for the strong-hearted, the bull-headed and the hopelessly romantic. People do this work because they love it. They love telling stories, however grim, seamy, or heartbreaking. In fact, the more heartbreaking the better.
But here’s a story that every working journalist, or would-be journalist, should hold in mind. Years ago, when a dear friend was in college, he also worked at the city newspaper. Aware he was fortunate, he gave the job everything, to the point that he sometimes just fell asleep in the newsroom. One morning an editor walked in to find him, bleary eyed, just waking. Shaking her head, the editor told him, Son, you can love this business with everything you’ve got. Just don’t forget that it is never, ever, going to love you back.”
A familiar message hit my Facebook inbox a few days ago, from a friend who works in marketing and urges me semi-regularly to leave journalism. I don’t think he really understands why I stay. We met when we edited a student newspaper together, but we have always loved different things.
This time, the message was, “We’re going to be hiring a new copywriter. I’ll send you the job description when I post it. I think you should at least read it.”
I’ll read it. I won’t apply, but there was a time when I wouldn’t have read.
There are so many things wrong with newspapers (long hours, low pay, relative lack of advancement opportunity) and with journalism (cannibalized product, lightweight upstart competitors, no business model).
I don’t notice them.
I can’t write about newspapers, about reporting, about my job or about my career, without gagging on the sentimentality that spills into the screen. All I notice, when I think about this business, is love.
I love the way reporting forces me, an introvert past reason and health, to live a rich and varied life. I love how it makes me uncomfortable and afraid. I love the flourish I feel when I finally rise from my desk chair 12 or 13 or 14 hours later, the feeling that something was done today, something was accomplished. I’ve always taken stock of my own happiness not in how many things I enjoy but in how many things I notice; when I step out into the fresh air after banging a story into the keyboard, I notice everything.
I cannot picture leaving, can’t imagine it, can’t fathom it.
But the person I’ll be in the future is not someone I know.
I have loved things in the past so desperately I couldn’t picture leaving them, and then I became someone else and I left.
My life would be calmer if I left journalism. It would be less frenzied, less anxious — I could be less afraid.
I’d lose a whole life if I made that decision, but how can I be sure I’ll never make it? How can I know I’ll never have a sudden revelation — like Allyson of the leaving-news blog post — that the news I love so much will end up ruining my life?
I feel like I’m walking and waiting on eggshells, like there are two options: Either I’ll stay forever, or I’ll leave and never look back.
And how can I make any promises to anyone, when I can’t know which one it’ll be?
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