So much of Allyson Bird’s blog post “Why I left news” rings true. Newspaper work is hard. The hours are long. The stress is wearying. The pay can be woeful. The business is changing, not always for the better, and scores of talented journalists are fleeing – or forced out – for other, not always greener, pastures.
The post has certainly struck a chord with ink-stained wretches and recovering journalists everywhere, if the postings and tweets and comments I’ve seen are any indication.
Something sounded a discordant note to me, a diehard newspaperwoman who, like Bird, is no longer working in a newsroom.
I’ve lived and breathed and celebrated and suffered the newspaper business for quite a bit longer than she did. I’ve worked in newsrooms from Miami to Boston, Philadelphia to Houston. I’ve seen electric days when there was a buzz in the air, and adrenaline seemed to snap like static electricity. I’ve also witnessed mournful days when a roll call of layoffs and buyouts was announced, and the end of newspapers seemed to skulk just a bit closer.
Still, I never felt cheated or used or disillusioned the way she seems to feel. I never cursed the fact that I was not making more money or lamented the sudden gulp of fear when I woke up in the dark fretting about a story. I’m sure I muttered a few curses under my breath (or maybe more than a few) when the copy desk called with a question or when I was called to work on a weekend.
But then I would shake it off and realize: This is my job. This is what I signed up for. And there’s nothing like it in the world.
Newspaper journalism is not a route to a big paycheck and banker’s hours. It never has been and never will be. The advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet and social media has nothing to do with that.
Newspaper journalism is not a pursuit for those who only seek the “vanity of a byline” or the glamour, such as it is, of a front page story.
If you’re looking for money or fame or easy hours, this was never the right job for you. The current throes of the business are not to blame for that.
For me, newspaper journalism has always been about telling stories, about giving voice to corners of the community that have long been silenced, about crawling into the lives and shoes of other people and pulling back a curtain so our readers can get a glimpse of the world around them.
It’s the thrill of making deadline when just ten minutes earlier, it seemed like there was no way in hell you could do it. It’s the sense of responsibility and awe you feel when someone opens up their most private moments and shares them with you. It’s the satisfaction of crafting a great lede and finding the perfect kicker. It’s the amazement that descends over you when you get a call or an email or a letter from a reader who has been moved by your words.
It’s knowing that you can make a difference, even if that difference is nothing more than giving your audience a good five-minute read in the morning.
Is the business changing – and twisting and turning as it changes? Without a doubt. Are good people leaving out of frustration and fear and foreboding? Unfortunately, yes. Do many of us wax nostalgic for days gone by? Perhaps.
But I did not leave the business because I lost faith in newspaper or newspapering. I didn’t give up on the future of journalism or in the potential of young journalists to find a way to reinvent and revitalize the industry. I didn’t leave because I was burned out or angry about my hours or my salary.
I left because I wanted to teach high school students about the business I still love.
I want them to see that words and images and newsprint (even if it’s virtual) have power. I want to preach the gospel of ink-stained wretches and pass on the faith to a generation of new believers.
Like Bird, I’m hopelessly in love with news, too. Always have been. But it hasn’t ruined me. It’s only made me better. And I’ll never leave it.