Things to Know Before Becoming a Journalist
Three years ago I decided to pursue a career as a journalist. I went to get a degree in Journalism and got my first job as the editor of a small, community newspaper in the city where I graduated. I understand that in the current economy, I'm extremely lucky to have found a job, let alone be given the responsibility of running a newspaper right out of college. Let me tell you, the responsibility of running a newspaper is thrilling. Everyday is different.
However, in an industry that most people consider on the brink, money is always tight. Printing costs, staff salaries, advertising sales decline... Almost all aspects that go into the simple service of providing news to the community is taxing on everyone affiliated with the paper. As romantic as it may seem to live the life of a writer, very few make the sort of money that leads to the cushy life that many a movie has portrayed.
Now, if writing is what you've always wanted to do then do not be disheartened. However, if you're going into the industry not knowing whether you fully want to commit, I'd like to provide a fair warning. So, here are a few things to consider before deciding to become a journalist.
Not all news is interesting
The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and all of the other large media outlets you can name make covering the news absolutely enjoyable. I mean, a community reporter would be incredibly lucky to have the budget to cover a presidential debate, let alone an Iowa caucus or New Hampshire Primary. If you're one of the incredibly lucky ones who is able to find employment at a large media outlet, then fantastic. However, covering a community doesn't provide the same excitement day-in, day-out. When the large scoop comes your way, grab it, because most of the time a community paper reporter will see and cover the same, handful of prominent "newsmakers" in the community (many of whom are far more "normal" than the likes of a Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, or Newt Gingrich).
I have to say that there are gems of stories out there in a small community - and you'll get the biggest buzz from beating the large news organization to a story... and when they ask you to help them with their story... Oh, the joy!
Be prepared to be outshone
You will not guess the number of times a reporter from a large paper has attended an event that our community paper is also covering and proceeds to get everyone's attention. Now, journalism is not at all about getting attention, in fact, I cannot stand it when reporters are shuffling around important community meetings, disrupting the flow of the proceedings, just to get their "snap". Journalists report the news, they aren't in it. Nonetheless, getting quotes and talking to important figures is far easier to do when you have the access that associating yourself with a large media organization provides.
Once again, there are those special moments when being a part of a small, community newspaper has its benefits, though. After a few weeks on the job, community members beging to recognize who you are, meaning they'll send you stories that they, perhaps, don't feel confident in sending to a larger newspaper. Many special stories have been found this way.
Don't do it for the money...
Because there is none.
To be completely honest, though, the joy of knowing that you're a part of a service that informs the community of what is going on far outweighs the heartbreak you're sure to receive on payday. As you watch your paycheck get eaten away by health insurance, taxes, taxes, and more taxes, try to be happy with the knowledge that... the work you do SHOULD get more recognition than that energy-company CEO who takes home millions in bonuses... just because they can.
Therefore, despite the perks of being a journalist, you should be realistic about how your life will turn out. Very few of us end up being anchors on CNN or ABC. Very few of us end us as the editor of the New Yorker. Say goodbye to the thoughts of that BMW you always wanted (for the time being, at least) and start learning the habit of showering with cold water and cooking dinner every night... Get used to the taste of your own cooking, or learn to get much better.
That said, if you love to write, report, and do something that matters, there is not an occupation in the world that beats being a journalist.