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Surviving as a journalist

April 16, 2012 | 6 Comments

How should a young would-be journalist go about these days, in the face of dwindling newspaper circulation, fierce competition and unstoppable feelings of hopelessness?

-David Haydon


Newspapers are failing because there's so little in them that anybody wants to read. Travelling around the country, I pick up once-proud newspapers in airports and am astonished at how thin they are, how publishers are cutting out the very things that give them life. It's like trying to cure a sick patient by bleeding him. What a young journalist needs to do is to put together enough money to take two years to see the world. There are readers who want to buy your stuff but first you have to find out what you can do. A young journalist has the big advantages of youth ---- curiosity, the freedom to ramble, the ability to meet physical challenges and to endure hardship ---- and you should use them to give yourself a big experience. Go walk around China, go explore India, live in Alaska, do big things, develop your sensibility, your narrative skills, your view of the world. This is not frivolous. This is essential to building a professional career. The reader needs to get some report from the distant world. He is firmly imprisoned in his own life. He needs you to be free in his behalf. This would be a good time to learn how to do that.


Newspaper Pages

Newspaper pages
Are smaller
And fewer in number,
As though the news
Might only encumber –
For at heart,
We’ve lit a narcissistic bent
As though the Tweet, the e-mail sent,
Measures smart - -
In fact, it may simply be
That we’ve lost heart,
In which case,
A new beginning
Calls for a new start!

Another approach would be to "try out" a different career for a couple of years, to take a job that's probably outside your comfort zone and definitely not part of your life experience to this point. Things like working in a warehouse, driving a big rig, working with disabled students, or working in a psychiatric ward. None of those require extensive training (even truck driving can be mastered in a month or two, though it will cost more than the others), and all of them will expose you to new people, new experiences and new ideas.

All good advice. The point is to get yourself experience and then, perhaps, find a niche. A woman I know got a scholarship for post-undergraduate study in Europe and took the opportunity to write pieces for the New York Times travel section. Having established that entree, she got a job as part of the Times' Albany NY bureau, reporting on the byzantine doings of the State Legislature. Along the way she became interested in environmental concerns, began writing about that, and landed a job at the New Yorker. But she never could have predicted all of this when she was just on the verge of graduating from college. Finding a mentor also helps, of course, but that's true in any field of endeavor.

As a former reporter and editor, I have to agree with Garrison. Journalism school prepares you for all kinds of things (especially a winning streak on Jeopardy, which I never got to try, unfortunately). But it can't teach you the most vital part of reporting: Perspective. It's not enough to tell readers what's happening; a good reporter puts those facts and figures in context, without editorializing. That requires a wider worldview than you have at 21 or 22, when you don't know how much you don't know. Go out and see something of the world, whether it's backpacking through Europe or working in a cannery in Alaska. It doesn't matter so much what you do -- just choose an adventure that appeals to you. You'll sand off some of that new-graduate shine and come at a reporting job with some life experience. It will make you a better reporter.

Here is a college grad being told that his education is basically worthless and to go bum around China for a year or two or be a waiter in order to learn what his college professors failed to teach. Journalism school is little more than commie indoctrination camp. It's obvious in print and broadcast journalism and the vast majority of Americans reject the commie ideology espoused by mainstream journalism. My advice is to give up daddy's credit card, move to the slums on your own and learn what life is like for most people. Get a crash course in what commie liberalism has wrought on the black man's family, your fellow Americans. Learn the reality behind the statistics, then try to report it through the lib media establishment. Good luck

All the advice appears good. But I will dare to add another suggestion: go work for a small newspaper in a small town far away from where you have ever lived. You will meet people you never imagined could have existed and will do things that will amaze you.

Fresh out of college, I worked for a small daily in eastern North Carolina and spent my days listening to the police scanner. I saw several dead bodies and covered a murder trial of a man accused of shooting his own father. They made me "business editor" because nobody else wanted the job. I got to interview then-senator Jesse Helms, one of the weirdest people on the planet. I attended a midnight KKK rally. And I wrote an investigative piece about the chair county's liquor board who I found was taking bribes. And the folks in town treated me like a celebrity.

It was a pretty excellent experience that I highly recommend.

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