This is a tough time to find a job. The economy is slowly recovering, but a lot of bosses are finding that by driving their current employees like sled dogs, they can make more money without having to hire anyone.
The sitch is even worse in my field, newsgathering. Newspapers and other such organizations are shedding employees like Scout dumping fur in the summer. Add to that the trend of folks (especially younger folks) abandoning print media in favor of online or TV news (or, even more disturbing, no news at all), and you may wonder what I tell my journalism students.
People who are attracted to this profession have never been in it for the money, except for a few “hairdos” who plan on being an anchor on a local television “news” show.
Most students who are going into journalism do so because it’s a way to combine a paying career with public service. Others pursue it on the grounds that it’s a way for English majors to get paid for something.
What I tell my budding young newshounds is that even though journalism pays poorly, is stress-filled and is fast being eclipsed by the empty calories of “infotainment” and rigged “reality” programs, it does nevertheless have many useful virtues.
Here is part of what I learned in journalism.
• Scheduled events never begin on time, except when you’re five minutes late, in which case they start 10 minutes early. Be obsessively punctual.
• The one detail you didn’t check (the mayor’s wife’s name) is the one you’re going to get wrong. Always take the time to be sure. Applies to relationships, too, as well as hot irons.
• If someone says “I’m going to tell you the honest truth,” they are not. Anyone who thinks he needs to preface his remarks with that intro has no doubt a well-deserved reputation as a fibber, or at least a bull-thrower. And if someone says “I’m an honest person,” run, do not walk, to the nearest convenient exit.
• People are not afraid to lie to your face. This deserves its own bullet point because good liars have lots of practice. How do you think they got to be so good? Also applies to relationships, if you follow my subtle nuance. The smoother the operator the slicker he or she sounds. Go with the stammerer.
• If it’s at the end of the agenda, it’s the most important thing. Some city councils and school boards bury the potentially controversial stuff in a consent calendar or “Staff report” they hope you won’t pay any attention to.
If your local leaders are planning on selling your children to work in a sweatshop assembling cell phones, it will be listed under Item 35, Subcategory 19, Item 6c. Pay attention to details and stay awake. When the contractor says “Oh, by the way, there’s going to be a few small adjustments in your bill. Nothing big” as he leaves, you can bet you’ll be paying for those “small adjustments” until your grandchildren have arthritis. In life, the devil is in the details.
• When someone says “I didn’t say that,” what they usually mean is “I wish I hadn’t said that.” One variation is when you quote them with 99 precent accuracy but leave one minor word out. They can (with slimy accuracy) claim to be “misquoted.” Of course, the gap between “I hate all journalists” and “I hate journalists” is really a distinction without a difference. Sort of like a prostitute and a lobbyist.
• Get it done now. One of the best ways to describe journalism (especially community journalism) is to compare it to school work. “It’s like having a term paper due every day and a final exam every week.” But the virtue in that is that you either develop speed or you develop ulcers and get a job at the mall. Journalists write fast, talk fast, eat fast, drink fast and complain non-stop. Those are not all positives, but if you can’t stand dawdlers, hem-and-hawers, surround yourself with ink-stained wretches. We may be weird, but we’re not boring.
• There is always more than one side to a story. Sometimes there are four or five. When you get to be a parent, this truth hits you like a semi. Little Brent may claim his sister hit him first, but maybe she clocked him because he set fire to her collection of Bratz dolls. Little Emily may complain about her mean teacher who is picking on her, but perhaps will leave out the detail that sweet Em talks non-stop in class and rolls her eyes loudly whenever the instructor tries to get her to quiet down.
Journalism, you see, works best as a form of preparation for a good life, not great wealth.