Many years ago, back when I was just a wee journalist, I worked at my college newspaper with a guy named Sean. Sean was the valedictorian of his high school class, upwardly mobile and, seemingly, could do whatever he wanted with his life.
Instead, he decided to go into print journalism.
When he graduated from high school, his Uncle Gary — a decorated sports columnist at a major newspaper in southwest Ohio — had a piece of advice for young Sean. On a piece of paper, Uncle Gary simply wrote the words, “Young Sean … journalism? No.”
Now that many of the best and brightest young minds are getting ready to graduate from high school, I’m guessing that some of them are thinking about a career in journalism. Our Troy Daily News intern Annie — who is an extremely bright and talented young lady — has stated her desire to one day work in the newspaper industry. Allow me to offer her the same advice Uncle Gary offered young Sean so many years ago.
Chances are, journalism isn’t for you. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t want to know what is going on around you, you probably ought to look elsewhere for future employment. If you are the kind of person who never wants to be the first on the scene and go places where many other mere mortals dare not tread — crash sites, fires and locker rooms that smell like something akin to acrid death — then don’t bother with journalism. You’re probably better off heading to law school.
If you are the kind of person that wants to go home every day at 5 p.m. and forget about life for awhile, I wouldn’t bother signing up for that first Journalism 101 class. If you don’t want to do something that is far more than a career, but rather a way of life, your talents would be far better suited for some other field. If you don’t want to let your job creep inside your bones and permeate every ounce of your soul, take as many science classes as you can — it’s a much better way to climb into a much higher tax bracket after you graduate college. If you don’t want to be on call all day, every day — if you don’t want to skip Thanksgiving dinner with your family, miss your daughter’s dance recital or, quite possibly, miss your uncle’s funeral so you can get that next big story — don’t bother entering our world.
Maybe you are the kind of person who isn’t looking for a second family when you go to work — heck, you already have a perfectly good family at home. Maybe you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Hey, my co-workers are just that — nothing more, nothing less.” And perhaps you’re right about that. Maybe you don’t want to chew the same dirt as the person sitting at the desk next to you. And maybe you don’t want to work alongside some of the most dedicated, passionate, under-appreciated folks you’ll ever meet. If that’s the case, find something else more profitable to do with your life.
Heck, it’s not easy being a journalist — particularly in today’s climate. If you don’t have the stomach for it, you really shouldn’t bother. Find a job that doesn’t allow you to change the world. An oversimplification of things? Probably. But try telling that to anyone who was affected by Watergate or the Pentagon Papers. I once had a college professor tell me that entering the world of journalism was kind of like getting a job making buggy whips … soon to be obsolete. Awful funny … last time I checked, it wasn’t buggy whips that brought down the Berlin Wall — it was a group of people who wanted understood one simple fact: nothing on Earth is more powerful than the truth and therefore the truth must be told. But hey, we’re just journalists — what do we know?
OK, if you’ve read this far, young scholar, chances are you’re still thinking about becoming a journalist some day. And that’s OK. So long as you are ready to work harder at it than anything you’ve ever worked at in your entire life; so long as you are ready to take an almost monastic oath to put the truth out there for the world to read; so long as you are ready to stand by your principles and so long as you are ready to make the world a better place and help ensure freedom, I have one final piece of advice for you.
David Fong is editor of the Troy Daily News and can be reached at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong.