Sunday, 24 March 2013

An unnecessary parting shot

I had a bit of a think before adding to the Allyson Bird 'Why I Left News' discussion. If you haven't read it, the link will take you to a post that obviously comes from the heart about a decision that has caused her a lot of anguish and consideration. 
However. 
Days later, this paragraph is still sitting very badly with me: 
 "I can’t imagine anyone outside of an affluent family pursuing a career with so little room for financial growth. And I wonder: Would that well-to-do reporter shake hands with the homeless person she interviews? Would she walk into a ghetto and knock on a door to speak with the mother of a shooting victim? Or would she just post some really profound tweets with fantastic hash tags?"
Right up until that paragraph it was a sympathetic and poignant post about leaving journalism. But it lost me here.

There are plenty of J-students out there, from both ends of the economic scale, slogging their way through school, creating university newspapers, producing multimedia work for their portfolios, and scrubbing up for work experience.
They know anyone who posted fantastic hashtags but came back without the story would have the career lifespan equivalent of a mayfly. 

If you're in or contemplating journalism as a career you'll be aware the job market is dwindling and the pay and hours are far better in other trades.
People leave journalism all the time for all sorts of reasons. The pay, disillusionment, the shift towards multimedia, the backlash of said shift, the cutbacks... that's typical of the workforce in a disrupted industry. 
People also left when journalism was a very good living indeed, with an expectation that expenses were works of fiction, lunches with contacts lasted all afternoon, and features meetings  included a nice cab sav in the office library. 

Over the weekend, some other assumptions were made about why someone left journalism. You should read the repercussions of that, here.

I've worked with graduate trainees from wealthy backgrounds who were just keen to get a byline and do a good job - I'm sure we all have. 
I sent one to a hellhole estate where readers had found drug needles in the local playground to do the story. I expect it was her first experience of major scale poverty and deprivation as a way of life, but she pitched in to clean up while interviewing the mums and came back with a good story. She accrued even better contacts - they thought she was great.

But journalism - in the UK, anyway - isn't just attracting the Trust Funded (I don't think  it ever did, to be honest).  
It's not a pursuit of the middle classes; most of my first year as a full-time journalist was spent wearing my mum's skirts and blouses - and I didn't even have college debts to blame because I didn't go.
 

Neither did being broke make me a paragon of empathetic reporting. When I got sent to do my first 'flea infestation in council house' story - that hardy perennial of early summer newsdesk calls - I was horrified to find myself perched on a couch in a sitting room where the walls were covered in living black wallpaper.

I was quietly happy the occupier did not offer to shake my hand.  I developed my photos, filed my story,  it went in the paper and that was all my employer expected of me. 
Go out, get the story, file it on time; rinse and repeat. 
If you can do that, rich or poor, you'll be a good journalist.

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