Monday, June 04, 2007

Being A Young Journalist Is Like Living In A War

In celebration of my starting a side project writing tech for The Huffington Post, I'm posting on a subject that one of my fellow writers covered in a different section of the site: It's a Confusing Moment To Be a Young Journalist.

Ain't that the truth.

Occidental College research fellow and journalist in residence Steven Barrie-Anthony, a mere three years older than yours truly, says despite the confusion (and all that hubbub about the Internet), the young journalist won't complain.

"I am outraged by corporate owners who, with little understanding of how journalism works...approach the uncertain future with their eyes strictly on the bottom line...this is clearly the worst of times. On the other hand, I sometimes find myself delighted by all this chaos and ferment."

"Could this be - dare I say it - the best of times?"

With his commentary, he invites other reporters to weigh in: Reporters of the LA Weekly, LA Times, Village Voice, and others. Some great commentary from old and young journalists alike follows his post.

So I thought it would be appropriate for The Editorialiste to take a whack at it.

Allow me to start by saying that I am not one of those people that always thought they would be a journalist. I found no interest in the profession until I got to college, where a great political journalism course lit up my pen and sparked everything.

In his post, Barrie-Anthony completely painted an accurate picture of the times, at least for us in our 20s, and maybe everyone else, too. In my own experience, I am constantly barraged with conflicting advice and concern from many of my colleagues, friends and mentors.

Some say journalism is bunk.
Some are amused.
Some find it noble.
Some think journalism school is $60,000 down the drain.
Some think it's opportunity.
Some think it's a poor profession.
Some think we should just be doctors or lawyers.
Some think it's a lot of work.
Some think we're spoiled, plugged-in brats.
Some think we're an exciting digital generation.
Some don't know what to think.

And there's truth in it all, to some degree. But if I had to say something about all this, what would I say, besides everything I've already said on this very blog?

First I'd say that Kathleen Nye Flynn, 25-year-old reporter for the Los Angeles Downtown News, got it right: "Call me blind or stupid, but I can't give up on something that I have so much invested in."

It's that kind of passion that will change everything, and it's that kind of passion that the ones who really care to succeed are fueled by. Right now, I'm strung out by my teeth in the most expensive city in the nation, cobbling together freelance assignments and a day job to do what I want to do. If I didn't have that passion, I'd probably be living at home (which, financial relief aside, is not something I consider a help to my attempted career trajectory).

Tom Brokaw called those WW2 G.I.s the 'Greatest Generation' because they fought in a great war. And call me on being ridiculous, but in this latest incarnation of the war on journalism -- sometimes partially a civil war, so maybe the war of journalism -- I think the multi-talented, writer-producer-webmasters that come out on top are really gonna change the way things are done, rooted in the old. Call us whatever you want, but we're definitely a generation worth naming.

That's what I think. What do you?


Rajni said...

I am a teacher and wanted to be pilot and would perhaps love to be a journalist. I think we love to crib about ourselves. we must remember that we are better off than millons other in poor ctrving places.
any ways your article was an eye opener. Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

journalists talking about themselves? No way.

I think maybe less discussion about how hard it is to be a journalist and more writing. :)


maria said...

*Thank you* Andrew -- this post is spot on. I'm ridiculously confused about all of this (I'll admit it!) — it really feels like we're being tossed in a hundred different directions about what ought or oughtn't, what we are or aren't. I have great hopes that our generation will make sense of what seems like a lot of muck right now. We have the tools and ambition, I do believe we can do it.

PS: Sherlock Nabaztag?

Maggie said...

I was a young journalist once, and now I'm an older one. One of my jobs is to recruit students to our world and retain the folks we have.
Good causes are worth serving, and journalism is one of them -- especially now. I do find that many of the young ones have skewed views of the work it takes to be good reporters and editors. They don't always understand that experience is their greatest teacher. As committed journalists, we have to be better coaches to offer support and understanding while offering a bit of tough love. Nothing great comes easily, and this vocation is a great one.
I advise them to work hard, learn all they can and dig, dig for information and news. If you are good at getting and analyzing information you'll always have a job.
Our skills will always be of value as long as people need information. So let's get over the poor, poor pitiful journalist thing and move on.

The Editorialiste said...

@maria: Terribly sorry, I read your comment but I must have accidentally gotten sidetracked before responding. My apologies; I like to respond to comments in a timely manner. To address your concerns:

Yes, it's totally confusing at times, and I'm glad you can sympathize. I don't want to make this whole thing sound bigger than it is, but to me, it's different in that we already know what we want to do, and the industry itself is full of unrest. Tough! Persistence and self-reliance.

By the way -- Sherlock Nabaztag? You'll have to explain that one for me; you've lost me. Might just be a lack of coffee this morning, though.

(P.S. - Cool site!)

All the best and thanks for reading,

The Editorialiste.

The Editorialiste said...


Thanks for commenting; I really appreciate your input. I agree with you completely -- young journalists need a bit of tough love, a lot of experience and a complete absence of presumption. I truly think this perception will always occur; it seems every generation thinks the one succeeding it is arrogant. And to a degree, that's true. But it's two different ways to view the world at two different times in one's life. Difficult to reconcile the two.

This is a great vocation, and I'm proud to be a member of it. And I'm glad there are people like you to offer support -- as I've mentioned in previous posts (check the archives), mentoring is important. Age doesn't matter, and I'm happy to see experience and information and ancedotes flowing forth from both young and old and in-between.

But allow me a short comment on your closing sentence -- I do not think this is a poor, pitiful journalist situation, and I often like to curtail that kind of talk (God knows we talk about ourselves enough already, as my anonymous commenter said above). I liken the young journalist situation to a war because we've very much in the crossfire of things. The war analogy isn't to spur empathy or pity -- for being young, for being confused, or for expecting it to come easy, which it won't -- but to try to shed a little light on the contradictory things we're being told as we learn. For every person like you who says "stick with it, it's a noble profession," there are another two that say "switch into publishing" or "move out of the city." That's what I mean.

Again, thanks so much for commenting and keep on reading. I appreciated reading your comment.

The Editorialiste.