Why I’ll never leave news

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.

And yet.

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.


  1. Well stated, Monica. Storytelling will always be at the heart of true journalism, and you do it better than most. While I am sad to see more major newspapers change or disappear, I am even more worried about community newspapers, which are often the only source for issues facing outlying areas like Del Valle, where I teach.

  2. I like to flatter myself that I still haven’t completely left the news business, although those still in the newsroom trenches may find that delusional. I moved to teaching for many of the same reasons that drove Allyson Bird out, but also with the enduring belief in newspapers and the news that keep Monica going. I still miss the newsroom and that ethos, but there are lots of ways to love and honor a thing. One consolation about those who study and practice journalism but then leave it—for whatever reason—is that people who have worked in the press are more engaged, informed citizens, whatever they do next. Of course, in the meantime, fewer and fewer people who might have been informed readers/viewers/listeners have as much of a clue of what’s going on in the world, however much they text and tweet.
    —Ted Pease, journalism prof and recovering journalist, Utah State

  3. Thank you for telling your story.

    I went into a career in the STEM disciplines in part because I had no talent in storytelling.

    I’ll probably never leave the STEM disciplines, but I’d sure love to learn how to tell a story, any story, including the story of my own storied life.

    I think for many of us, our lives are stored in memories that never come out as published stories.

  4. Except, due respect, you DID leave the news business. I applaud your passion for journalism, but you are no longer in the business. I wonder if you left to teach it because you didn’t like the way it was being practiced and wanted younger, aspiring journalists to know how it truly should be done. I applaud you if that’s the case. Please teach them insistently about sourcing and not picking up someone else’s work off a website.

  5. “For me, newspaper journalism has always been about telling stories, about giving voice to corners of the community that have long been silenced…”

    This was also my motivation – and I still left the industry. Suggesting that people who leave are somehow subpar or were never cut out for journalism in the first place is childish at best and a huge part of the problem at worst. Because of that betrayal/guilt sentiment, journalists have coped with increasingly poor treatment – unwilling to ever say enough is enough for fear of looking weak.

    Stop drinking the Kool-Aid. Reporters interview people, write it down, and go home. You’re not in charge of flipping the switch on the sun everyday. Believe it or not, there are harder and more fulfilling jobs. I say this because I truly believe the ego of this profession also keeps people putting up with bullisht year after year. You may be attacking her for “vanity bylines” – yet your entire post is just dripping with the same type of vanity – about changing the world, etc. The original author just reached a point when ego was no longer enough.

    When a job is no longer a fit for your life, you leave. It’s not abandonment. It’s called common sense.

    I chose me and my own future. If somebody can look at my body of work and everything I’ve sacrificed for this industry and suggest that I or anyone like me was never cut out for this, they’re a sucker. Plain and tall.

  6. I love the news, too, and I miss my days working on a newspaper, but something we have to remember: print worked because it was the fastest and cheapest means of mass communication. That’s no longer true. Today it is the most efficient and effective means for delivering thoughtful content, but it is not where people go for daily information.
    So we have to see print journalism change not only in focus but in frequency. A newspaper should move daily coverage in print to on line and then use print in a weekly or monthly edition that wraps up and analyzes the events preceding. That type of publication will have limited to no advertising content. That will require journalists to be more introspective. Gettting the news first is no longer possible. We need people who will get it right.

  7. amen. Having worked as reporter, editor, layout (now called designer), and online, I can’t imagine another career path so varied and challenging.

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