Spring Break and changing the world

In College Goals, Writing Opportunities on March 2, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Even though I have a week to go until Spring Break, in many ways I have been taken an impromptu Spring Break from the internet. Sometimes graduation and a quarter-life crisis hit at the same time. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching in the past week.

One thing I’ve been thinking of quite a bit (and it’s something I’ve never bought into) is the theory many students and beginning journalists have about how they’re going to use their writing to change the world.

They just don’t get it.

Journalists don’t change the world. They write about the people who do. In fact, journalism keeps most journalists from changing the world, especially if they want to cover their passions.

Think about it. If you’ve worked your way up to the presidency of a gay pride organization, no editor is going to let you write about it. If you volunteer for a soup kitchen that needs volunteers, no editor is going to let you write about it. If you join a protest, guess what. No editor is going to let you write about it.

Some journalists get around this by specifically not joining the groups they want to cover. I did this when I was a journalist at The Oracle, so I spent two years covering events I wanted to join in on and people I wanted to befriend but couldn’t because of ethics.

The upside to the new world of journalism is blogs, where many journalists are given free reign on some newspaper owned blogs and their own personal blogs. However; I don’t think many newspapers would hand over their server space for a blog on any kinds of activism, and I know of a couple journalists in my area who have been fired over blogs they started in their own time.

“But, what am I supposed to do?” You might ask. “I really do want to change the world, and I thought reporting would help me accomplish this. You must be cynical, Wendy Withers, because all of my friends want to change the world, too. And, with new guard journalism, we’re sure to succeed.”

No, you’re not. Chances are, you’re sure to get disillusioned with the whole reporting process and quit after a year or two. You’ll realize that most editors aren’t willing to give you the feedback you want, you’re writing the articles assigned to you, and these assigned articles are geared towards the local audience, not what you actually want to write about. On top of this, since you’ll most likely start out writing for a small newspaper in a small market, the stories you do write probably won’t focus on the big, “important” issues. If the first paper you work for does cover those issues, they’ll go to seasoned reporters, not you.

“Your argument does seem to make sense. So, what do I do?”

You have two choices. Either stay on track with the knowledge you gained by reading this, or quit now, while you can. Quit a low-paid career field where the only feedback you receive may be how much you suck. There are plenty of organizations where you can change the world, and many would be thrilled to employ someone with a communications degree.

Think social justice organizations. Art galleries. PR firms. Book publishers. Businesses that actually pay employees a living wage and then give them a raise for a job well done.

The newspaper business doesn’t have enough open slots to provide every Jschool graduate with a job. From what I’ve seen, most Jschool graduates have no idea what’s going to be expected out there in the real world. You might as well get out while you can.

  1. Good call. I don’t know if I’ll end up in journalism or fighting for bicycle rights and safety for some coalition. I love writing but I also love getting being able to live and I can’t make shit doing what I do.

  2. I’m still looking to get in at a paper or magazine, but if I was offered the perfect job, I would be happy freelancing. Now that some of my friends have graduated, I’ve had to deal with the “This isn’t what I signed up for, I wanted to force the world to change, not worry about factual errors working their way into print” whining.


    You’re another one that needs to update their blog more often, Smithers. Hop to it! I finally got your feed to work on my Mac (it wouldn’t work on my PC). Entertain me.

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