a lost zillennial

If I'm not a journalist, then what am I?

a lost zillennial

For the last five or six years, my introduction has been:

"My name is Marlene, and I'm a journalist."

It's the ethical thing to do in any interaction with a source. People you're gathering information from (usually) need to know what you want from them and should know their words may end up in print.

The trouble is when I start using that line to introduce myself to everybody.

The fourth estate

We silly little journalists at our silly little journalism schools have it beat into us from day one that we're doing something important. Did you know the only line of work explicitly named in the Constitution is the press? Now you do!

It's emphasized how important we are for democracy or whatever in part due to one of the most powerful men in the U.S. vilifying the media for many years and continuing to vilify it today. This is totally anecdotal, but when I left university, I noticed very few of the journalism majors actually wanted to be journalists. Weird, but okay.

Being a journalist is not an easy career, and we're taught that it's a noble one, too. When you're taught to be a journalist, you're told there are only so many "important" jobs, other than ours:

We're not told that outright, of course. But the common thread in those occupations is that those are the people we go to when we need information. When you start a new job covering a new beat, one of the first things you do is learn who the important people are and then introduce yourself to them.

I've been told to imagine a crisis and think about who I'd need to get in touch with as quickly as possible. School shooting? Start texting the police chief and a school district rep. Earthquake? Gotta know a PR person at FEMA and the mayor. Mayor dies? You better have their communications director on speed dial.

It's all very impersonal. Our job is to make it sound personal, and a lot of us do our best, but it's a challenge, especially when everything is virtual these days. These people act as a kind of agent between real life and newspeople.

The inherent problem here is that we are relying on the word of the person of power in the situation. If someone doesn't want you to know something, they don't have to tell the truth, or they can tell you nothing. A common phrase in my inbox is "no comment." But think about where that leaves subjugated communities. They aren't speaking for themselves. Often, a cop is telling you what that person did; the cop is telling you what they think that person did.

I'm going off on a tangent. All this is to say that journalists are implicitly taught that there are people of authority in society, and those are the important ones.

So, what does that make everyone else?

I seem to only judge myself on this rhetoric.

Why? Unsure. See above gif for one possible explanation.

If a friend came to me and said, "I don't want to be a journalist anymore. I'm gonna go be a dog groomer," I'd be thrilled for them! In a way, I might feel so happy for them because it would allow me to live vicariously through someone with a job that I don't perceive to be as stressful as mine. Even if I do like my own job.

But if I daydream about leaving journalism to go be, I don't know, a cake decorator, I'd cut myself off real quick. "Oh come on, me, you're lucky to have a job in journalism. You're making the world a better place."

Am I, though?

A recent post I wrote details a little bit of my existential crisis about being a reporter, so I won't get too in the weeds here.

The dark side

If you leave journalism, it's called "going to the dark side."

We know it's dumb. We make fun of it. We say it anyway.

I've known this pretentious phrase since my first semester in college, probably. It ingrained in me this notion that you are doing a morally wrong thing by "leaving" journalism. Give me a break. It's a job!

Don't get me wrong, I like calling myself a journalist, writing stories, and meeting people of all sorts of backgrounds. It's a unique career, but then again, a lot of careers are.

My issue now is that I've considered joining the dark side. My job is stressful. I don't think my boss likes me or thinks I do a good job. I drudge through stories that I don't find that interesting. That's the extent to which I am going to comment on my job (look at me, all PR-like).

**Reiterating: I like being a journalist. I feel proud about it. I love feeling like I learn something new every day, and then I get to teach people about it. I feel like it's my duty. **

Being totally honest, it also makes me feel good when people get excited when I tell them I'm a journalist. Like it's some sort of special job. A lot of people know who I am. I met a woman on a plane once who had read one of my articles earlier that day. It makes me feel good. I've never denied that I like attention, and I won't start now.

I think my real fear here is that, if I got a different job:

  1. I'd feel like I wasn't cut out to do a job I think of as important.
  2. People in my life would think less of me.
  3. I might learn that being a journalist is the only thing I'm actually good at.

That's pretty damn scary. I literally have dreams about it.

Many journalists, especially those early in their careers, feel the same way. Any time I'm in a group of several journalists in a non-news setting, it's bound to come up.

I don't really have a resolution to all of this. It's something I'm still working through. I don't think I'll be over it for a long, long time.



Shoot me a comment or start a conversation with me by emailing davstri4077@gmail.com.