BREAKING NEWS: College doesn’t prepare you for the real world

I thought I learned everything I needed to know to land a good first job and start my journalism career off right. I did get a good first job. And I am doing quite a bit of work at my first “big kid” job. But I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see, not necessarily in my newsroom, but the real world journalism industry as a whole.

The industry drives people away. It turns good journalists into burned out shells of their former selves. And it does so faster than I’d like admit.

It’s sad. There are at least two people I know who are turning away from journalism for that reason. Both of them are looking to get into public relations.

Journalism isn’t what they thought it’d be. It’s not what I thought it would be either. I had these ridiculous fantasies of ethics being commonplace in newsrooms across the country, people working together to make their product the best it can be and everybody loving what they do.

I can see that that’s not true in all cases. And college doesn’t tell you that. The best (or worst) advice anyone ever gets is, “Don’t go into journalism. It’s a dying industry.” The theory is that it’s dying because everything is shifting to a more online/digital focus. But I beg to differ.

I would propose the reason the industry is dying is because the good, ethical, passionate journalists get turned away by the depressing realization that people don’t hold themselves to high enough standards like we all did in college.

It was ingrained in my mind by former editors, fellow editors and professors alike that ethics, honesty and accurate reporting are the most important things. They are. I still believe that. But outside of the collegiate bubble, some people don’t see it that way. Or, if they do, they don’t realize that those qualities have been slowly slipping away.

If not for meeting the group of journalists who attended the SPJ Reporters Institute in July, I fear I might have already started to run away. But I love this business too much. All it takes is one person to try and make a change and pop the collegiate bubble so the  “real world” can get a taste of what it’s been missing out on.

I don’t think I’m that person. I’m probably not. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and be that person. I have to. Otherwise, I might end up out of the industry like so many other talented journalists.

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Choosing Money Over Dreams Guarantees Unhappiness

A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows that some college students choose their major based on how much tuition they’ll pay at a certain college and how much money they’ll make after the fact. As far as I’m concerned, those students can pretty much expect a life of regret, and probably unhappiness.

The article explains how some advisers (in high school and college) have convinced some students to turn to careers with higher monetary gains, rather than doing what they love. That’s — pardon my language — bullshit.

If someone is truly passionate about what they want to do in life, they’ll find a way to make it work, regardless of what any adviser thinks is best. Most students who plan to attend college have a pretty good indication of what their career choice looks like from a financial perspective. And if they really care about it, yearly salary won’t matter.

Yeah, I know it matters in some sense just for the fact that you’ll have bills to pay and all that grown-up stuff that nobody likes to think about. But if you’re getting into a career for the money, I just can’t see how you can be content with yourself. If I wanted a writing career with a better salary, I would have been over in the Speech Comm department at SIUE studying public relations as my major instead of my minor. And really, can you imagine a future journalist saying, “Oh, yeah. Let’s go cover board meetings and riots so we can get rich to pay off loans and buy expensive things!”…?

But to get back on track, honestly, I would have more respect for a counselor who is upfront with me, saying, “Look, you’re not going to make a lot of money. But if this is what you want to do, and you feel you’ll be happy doing it, go for it. And I’ll do whatever I can to help you find scholarships or grants.”

Steering students away from their goals isn’t the job of a counselor or adviser. They counsel. They advise. They don’t convince students to walk away from their dreams.

Why Journalism Is More Addicting Than… well, anything.

Other than the sports reporters post, I felt like I was making too many negative blog posts, so today I’m changing it up a bit. For all the things I could complain about, there are a million more things I absolutely love about this business.

The rush of deadline

Nothing provides more stress, excitement and anticipation that knowing you have a limited amount of time to write a story. There’s something about being under pressure that brings out the best in what journalists are trying to convey. Yeah, it’s a pain some days, but you know you wouldn’t have it any other way. And neither would I.

The excitement that comes with breaking news

There is nothing more exciting than being the first to break a story or knowing another media outlet has the story too and doing your best to beat them as well. But more importantly, that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that says, “This is what you live for. Go get that story!” (Yes, I realize how cheesy that sounds.) is what keeps us going. That little rush sets everyone a buzz in a journalistic euphoria that nobody can quite describe.

Telling someone’s story

Telling someone’s story is probably what I love the most. As journalists, we expect complete strangers open up about their lives, giving us all the grimy, dirty, wonderful details, and then we turn that into something that will live on in the history, in library archives, in internet databases, etc. The scope of impact you make on someone’s life — even if it’s just for a moment — is worth every struggle in getting a story to turn out just right. Of all the stories I’ve written, the ones I remember most are about people. Not budgets, not building expansions, not board meetings. PEOPLE.

Jesse Ingram, the man who drove a shuttle bus at SIUE through Madison County Transit and co-wrote “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right” with his brother, Luther Ingram

Darnell Malone, the art grad student who was so particular about how his quotes sounded that it drove me batty, but who said (through the grapevine) that of all the stories that have been written about him, mine was the best

Davey Vega, the local professional wrestler (who, ironically, graduated from the same high school I did) who told me that he bookmarked the profile I wrote about him

As important as all the hard news stories are, the appreciation for what it takes to tell the story isn’t there near as much as it is when you’re talking to a person about their life, their hopes, their dreams — not a person in a high-level position telling you facts, explaining complex formulas or outlining construction schedules.

I can’t imagine myself doing anything else

Writing has always been one of my passions. I loved writing essays in school. I loved when the teacher would have “peer editing” days. I couldn’t wait to pull out my red pen and copy edit all over my neighbor’s essay — and circle all the ‘be’ verbs. Writing is in my blood. It’s the one thing I have always felt I was good at, and one of my three biggest passions in life, aside from professional wrestling and music. Very few things give me greater joy than finding ways to effectively transition from a lead-in to a quote or carefully selecting the right words to create a lede. Nothing compares to this. There’s nothing in the world I would rather do for a living than sit down with my recorder, notebook and a pen to tell a story.

It’s not about the money

For as long as I can remember, I was told, “There’s no money in journalism,” “You’re not going to make anything studying journalism” and any other phrase that echoes the same remarks. But I don’t care. Nobody gets into journalism for the money. Anybody who does is fooling themselves. But that’s the thing. It’s NOT about the money. It’s about holding people accountable, hunting down the big stories, chasing after breaking news, telling stories for people who, otherwise, would not have their voice heard.

It’s about passion and desire and wanting to be happy with your profession, not with your bank statement. Long ago, I made peace with the fact that I will never be rich, I’ll most likely live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life and I won’t have great benefits.

But I don’t care. I love journalism. This business is my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.