Why give people reasons not to do something? Well, one of the basic skills of journalism is supposed to be adherence to factfulness or realism. When young people choose a profession these days, they generally do not do it out of mere calculation, weighting in rationally all the pro and contra arguments: they are almost always following a dream. Nothing against following dreams, it is probably the most exciting thing that people can do and the most powerful stimulant, but it would hurt to be aware that following dreams can be a very risky things. Moreover, dreams change. When I was 12 or 13, I unusually got an A in an essay where I wrote about my dream of being an airplane pilot. I had not been in a plane until then. Some years later, when I had forgot about my childhood dream and flew for the first time, I almost got a panic attack and I am accompanied by a barely controllable sense of panic every time I happen to fly even now: contrary to the popular myth, childhood dreams are probably not the real revelation of our true self.
The appeal of being a journalist appear to be obvious: it promises people a sense of glamour, the opportunity to be close to where “things are happening”, and regardless of whether you are a sports journalist, a political reporter or the correspondent from China, access to a world of great personalities and semi-celebrities, the “people who matter”. Your thoughts on a particular subject will be deemed relevant, professional and competent and will be read (or heard) by thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of people: you will help shape the way the public at large thinks about important things. In short, working in the media can be very exciting. It certainly is sometimes. But very often it’s not. Here it is 10 reasons you have to consider before deciding that there no possible career for you other than journalism.
1) There aren’t really so many jobs. Imagine you want to be a banker, a doctor or a car mechanic. You can do it basically wherever you happen to live, because every town or city needs bankers, doctors and car mechanics. The whole Guardian Media Group employs approximately 1000 people. Competition is extremely fierce. It appears easier to get a job in banking with average grades than for someone who graduated in English cum laude to get a reply to his application for his first unpaid internship. Which brings us to the second reason
2) Unpaid work. One thing needs to be made very very clear. We have heard all these moving stories about young people who entered journalism by chance, who never really wanted to be a journalist but were offered a job anyway and where paid for every single word they wrote from day one. In the vast majority of cases the reality is very very different. Do you think you are the only one who wants to write for the New York Times or do documentary films for the BBC? Account for at the very least 2/3 full time internships without seeing any money. It is like in the jungle, it is a natural selection process. Only the most resilient survive
3) Contacts and sources are (almost) everything. Journalists like the word transparency and enjoy fantasizing about an ideal perfectly transparent world. Sometimes, however, one has the impression that there is very little “transparency” in the media business itself. Whom you know sometimes often matters more than what you know. If you are not any good at getting to know the right people to get a job, why should be any getting in getting to know people who can give you useful information?
4) Unstable work. Congratulations, you got your first six months contract! Think you have made it in journalism now? Think again. Having some work today does it mean you’ll have tomorrow. It seem to be common practice for media organisations to give their employees the least possible amount of job security. Some may like it the freedom offered by the possibility of working as a freelance. For some others, not knowing if your piece will be published, and when, hopefully, you’ll get your paycheck may be too much.
5) Stress. Being a journalist is not the sort of job which can give your days a structured, predictable routine. Working 12 hours a day and writing well into the night are things you just to be ready to accept. This can be part of the fun sometimes of course. But there is always something happening out there in the word. A journalist very rarely knows this feeling of “calling it a day”. With time of course you learn to live with this. In general, however, journalists can be a rather stressed out bunch of people, and stress at work is, as we all know, a very contagious disease
6) Low pay. Star journalists like Pierce Morgan, Andrew Marr or Mika Brzezinski can earn millions a year. Yet for every single Morgan or Marr, there are thousands of fellow journalist who earn significantly less. If you want to earn enough money to live comfortably, make earning money your no. 1 goal. Working in the media may not be the most effective way to become rich or even to support yourself to live decently
7) The crisis of the media. The advent of the internet did not have a great impact on traditional media, this is a well known story. Why should people pay to buy something they can find for free on their phones after all?
8) Group think. You may think that to be a successful journalism, you need to write and speak elegantly and flamboyantly. False. The language of today’s journalism is not the language of early XX reporters. You need to be able to convey complex events and idea into very clearly formulated phrases. You need to have a special nose for catchy buzzwords and not be afraid to use language cliches. The business of today’s journalism is not originality but rather replicating message and popular stories as many times as possible, because if a story is “trending”, there certainly must be a reason, and nobody wants to be left behind. How many times you read, almost word for word, the phrase “Russian hackers undermining the trust in US democracy institutions” over the last two years. Do you think that every time a columnist or a reporter wrote these words he stopped for long to think about what these words even meant?
9) Hypocrisy, cynicism, elitism (and other similar qualities we tend to associate with arrogant parvenu celebrities…) Journalists like to see themselves as “on the side of the people”, a force of enlightenment against all the enemies of democracy. The problem is, sometimes they appear to be taking themselves just a tad too seriously, seeming to know better than “the people” what is good and better for “the people”. Professional deformation also makes journalists promptly and infallibly distinguish between a “nobody” and “important people”
10) No family. Your wife/your husband will divorce you because you’ll be so absorbed by your work and your children (if you’ll ever have some), we’ll think you are a pathetic scribbler or, maybe even worse, an embarrassing face on tv. When you grow up with a journalist in your house, it does not even look like something so special like it was for you when you started after all.
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This is of course all bulls**t. If you want to work in journalism, and you want it so badly that you really cannot possibly think of other viable career choices for you, well, then ignore the first commandment of journalism for once, ignore all the indisputable facts we have enlisted here above and try it for yourself.