How to Find Your Passion Without Going Insane

If I haven’t made it clear, journalism is my passion. It’s what I love to do. I used to think I could be content anywhere in the world (for the most part) as long as I was writing. It didn’t matter the topic, just as long as I could string sentences together in a coherent fashion, I could be content.

But what I failed to realize was I don’t want to be just content. I want to wake up every morning and look forward to the work I’ll be doing that day. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I spent a good portion of my career basically treading water because I was ‘content.’ I want to write things that not only matter to an audience, but matter to me.

I want to write about music, pro wrestling, concerts, rock stars, exciting people, ordinary people, people who think their lives aren’t worth writing a story about. I want to tell their stories. But that’s a goal that seems to be off in the distance, just out of reach.

I’m very thankful for whatever deities exist that I was able to land a job out of college. I’m getting great experience, creating good rapport within the beats I cover and writing some pretty high profile stories for the coverage area. But the amount of feature writing I’ve done since graduation is lacking.

But I have to refuse to let that get me in a slump. It seems like recent grads in their first “real” newsroom get a culture shock. I know I did. I went from a staff of about 20 (photogs, reporters and editors) for a college campus to an editorial staff of two to cover an entire area of St. Louis. But so many people seem to let that shock weigh down on them; they let it become a burden. But they shouldn’t. I shouldn’t.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that your first job out of school is not going to be your dream job. But it’s going to be a good place to get experience. It will look great on a resume. It helps you develop clips, tailor your skills and expand your knowledge on a variety of topics.

Know that there are going to be tough days, weeks, and possibly months. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s just a short amount of time in your career — even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time. It’s a stepping stone that may get submerged in water a little more than you’d like. But that doesn’t mean the sun won’t come out to dry it off sooner or later.

I don’t expect to stay in St. Louis for the rest of my life. I will, eventually, make my way out of this state. But for a first job, St. Louis sure as hell isn’t a bad place to start. In fact, it’s probably the best place to start. I just can’t let myself forget that this isn’t the beginning AND end of my career. It’s barely a beginning.

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Ethics Shouldn’t Disappear After Graduation

When I first started writing for newspapers (including my high school paper), I would constantly worry about quoting people wrong, having facts wrong or doing something unethical. I put thought into every story. Read each story to make sure I gave both (read: all) sides of an issue equal time. But somewhere along the way, it seems that worrying process disappears.

Not for me specifically, but just in general. Stories I hear from fellow journalists and things I see in various newspapers are kind of disheartening.

The number of stories printed or posted online with one source just to be the first one with the news is sad. What happened to real, in-depth reporting? What looks better to the readers, a brief with one source or an in-depth story with multiple interviews that give a good overview of the entire issue? I know that some stories can’t be much more than a brief. Those aren’t what I’m taking issue with. It’s the bigger stories, the real news gathering, that gets slighted so one newspaper can beat the other.

Editing photos to please individual readers is also absurd. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times — Don’t crop photos. Don’t flip photos. Don’t alter photos to change the message they portray. DON’T. DON’T. DON’T. Then when I hear through the grapevine that some editors request items to be photoshopped out of photos because it would embarrass the person in the photograph, I am stuck in a state of disbelief. If you’re embarrassed by something, don’t submit a photo to a media outlet, simple as that. An editorial staff shouldn’t be forced to make unethical decisions for fear of backlash from a community member.

The amount of press releases passed off as legit news items also stuns me. We had a very strict ‘no press release’ rule at my college paper, and I followed that rule like it was a religion. Sure, we used press releases as story ideas quite a bit, but to run a press release just about word-for-word never even crossed my mind. We were the content makers, the ones getting the news out to the campus, not someone who, most of the time, can’t even use AP Style correctly. The immediacy of the internet has pushed public relations to the forefront of the news business, allowing journalists to slack off and editors to essentially give away free advertising when it could use the space for original content.

I have also heard of newspapers that refuse to run corrections. When I was EIC in college, I erred on the side of caution and probably ran more corrections or clarifications than the last few editors in chief. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but I wanted to be upfront with our readers, and if we made a mistake, I wanted people to know we are aware and regretful of said mistake. Not running corrections or clarifications, to me, shows blatant disrespect to the readers. If you’re not willing to own up to your mistakes, why should readers trust anything you report in the first place? Granted, if citizens don’t read other publications covering the same issues, they would never know. But even so, that could be just as bad. Probably worse.

As much as I love this industry, there are just some stains on it that don’t seem to want to wash out. But, I will do my best to bring the most accurate, precise and engaging content to the forefront of any publication I write for — and I have no doubt that former (and current) Alestle staff members and former high school journalism friends will do the same.

You Don’t Need a “J-School” to get Good Experience

“Why aren’t you going to Mizzou?” “You know Mizzou is one of the best J-Schools in the country, don’t you?” “Why wouldn’t you study journalism at Mizzou? The have such a great program.”

I heard many variations of these questions/statements when I would tell people I chose Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to study journalism (Well, technically “Mass Communications with a specialization in print and electronic journalism”) instead of Mizzou — the “best Journalism school in the country.” The reason? I just didn’t want to.

I have nothing against Mizzou, its journalism program or anything associated with the university. I know many people who graduate from the program go on to do amazing things in the industry.

But I had no desire to go there.

Partially because 90 percent of my high school goes to Mizzou just about every year and partially because I was tired of hearing about how everyone who studies journalism needs to go to Mizzou. Everybody who wants to make anything of themselves has to be in the J-School. And I knew that wasn’t the case.

It’s not about the school’s name on the piece of paper you get when you graduate. It’s about the work you produce and what you learn at the school you chose. And I’m proud to say I chose SIUE, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My time working for the Alestle, SIUE’s student paper, was great. It was, by far, the best experience of my time at SIUE. From the day I set foot in that office for my interview as an intimidated, but excited little freshman, I knew it was the right place to be. I learned more from the student editors there, than I think I could have ever learned in a classroom.

And that little voice inside my head that (to this day) forces me to keep changing around my stories, asking more questions, constantly getting clarification on things that (at first glance) don’t seem like that big of a deal, that’s the voice of a former Alestle editor in chief.

As helpful as my professors were, and as much as I did learn in the classroom setting, nothing compares to the first-hand experience I got at the Alestle. And it’s not just because it was a campus newspaper that offers a good starting point for baby reporters. It’s because everybody cared about the paper. They cared about the final product. They wanted every story to answer every possible question it could answer. They wanted every single reporter to improve with every story. It wasn’t just about improving yourself and generating clips for your portfolio, it was about everybody improving together — about everybody being passionate about the paper and its success.

I know that happens at schools like Mizzou too. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed the experience as much. There’s just something about the Alestle, and the people who are truly dedicated to the paper, that makes them stand out, makes them more passionate, more driven, more sincere than anyone else I’ve ever met.

Plus, I never would have met these awesome people if I chose any school over SIUE:

The Alestle Editorial Board, 2010-2011