Journalism is all about paying your dues. Degree(s) are not enough. Clips alone won’t seal the deal either. It takes persistence, tough skin, accepting that you will hear the word ‘no’ frequently, sleeping about 5 hours a night, being in the know about everything from politics to the latest celeb to adopt another African baby and knowing there are 1,000 people in line ready to take your spot. You must have a passion for what you do.
I know my life wouldn’t be complete without writing. But I’m starting to question if my passion is really in journalism.
Not moving to NYC was not an option. I will rob Peter to pay Paul to be here because it is truly the hub of the media industry. I’m far from attaining my goals, but they are at least in my peripheral with me here. But do I really care about chasing a story? Reporting hard news doesn’t exactly tickle my fancy. My dream job, I can’t believe I’m writing this publicly, is to work as a columnist, which is under the journalism umbrella. Thing is, you don’t just skip to columnist status without doing extensive reporting throughout your career. With the end goal being to eventually publish a number of books, I often wonder if I should just get to writing a book and screw all the hobnobbing of trying to join the inner circle of journalists.
In today’s world of blogging, citizen journalism and the burgeoning of online magazines/newspapers (even if the websites traditionally wouldn’t be considered credible journalism), it is apparent people don’t really know the difference. Everybody with a laptop and WordPress account considers themselves a writer. An opinion + a blog does not a writer make. And people don’t get that a blogger isn’t necessarily a writer or journalist. I’ve laughed countless times at readers online that have called me a “journalist” as if I am a poseur. It slightly annoys me knowing I’ve gone to school for a certain skill, have executed this skill through actual reporting clips, then someone basically attempts to discredit what I do. At the same time I brush it off because I understand the lines are so blurred.
Then there is the big O. Objectivity is such a crucial component to journalism. Once you’ve singed up for the rocky road of a life as a journalist, you’re under a microscope for anything that may violate the ethics of journalism. Censorship becomes one with your daily conscious. Should I tweet this? Can I say that?
Commentary pieces are not exactly objective and tend to be completely subjective with facts thrown in here and there. We all know I’ve been all commentary everything for the past year. At least 75% of my clips are Op-Ed. Not only do commentary clips amount to the equivalent of an unsigned check, commentary can get you in trouble. A fellow journalist told me last week, “You know you should be careful with your Steve Harvey piece. He is cool with a lot of the top people at big publications. And what if you have to interview him one day?” *turns up Jay Z’s “Can I Live?”*
Writing for Free
Not something I’m willing to do unless the NYT called me up tomorrow. Not only would I write for free for the NYT, I’d do it under the most dire circumstances. Other than that writers should be compensated. Again, you have to pay your dues in this industry with blood, sweat and tears. But you also have to know when to start setting a standard for yourself. Print journalism is one of the only fields people expect you to provide a service for free. A broadcast journalist wouldn’t be expected to come in and assist the Producer of the news program for free would they? It’s not that I’m above writing for free because I’ve done it. I interned at VIBE magazine for free. In fact, I had to pay my University to get credit for that internship AND pay to rent a room in Jamaica, Queens. But that’s how bad I wanted it. I’ve written countless online articles for free to build my portfolio and gain exposure. I never once complained because you got to do what you got to do. At some point though a publication has to respect the time you’re putting into writing articles. I was told any reputable publication will pay its writers. Ha! Tell that to Huffington Post.
Honestly, the rejection takes a toll on your self-esteem. You can be the best writer or journalist in the game, which I would never claim to be, but it will not make you immune to getting pitches rejected, writing a wonderfully written piece only for it not to be ran by the publication at the last minute, not getting emails returned from editors, having to persistently pursue editors at pubs you want to write for without being annoying, having folks not know who you are so they won’t want to take a chance on you, seeing people get opportunities in your field who aren’t technically journalists. It all happens. But I promise you will see the fruits of your labor if you are built to take the blows, get back up and keep at it.
Journalism is one of the hardest industries to break into, but of course I say that without ever having really attempted to succeed in any other field. When I interviewed CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux she said this much without even being prompted. You know it’s hard. Now the question is, is it worth it to you? I’m still trying to figure that out. Writing definitely is. I just don’t know if journalism is where my heart is. And if that’s the case I’m in a shitload of trouble.