I feel like a broken record when I say that there is more to journalism than newspapers. Just last week, I was asked by my grandmother what I was going to do after graduation. My aunt has worked at publications such as The Washington Post, and for companies like AOL. She has been on the lookout for job positions for me around my hometown, and felt compelled to send the descriptions to my grandma, who then relayed them to me. Lo and behold, they were newspaper jobs. Though I appreciate the thought that my family is looking out for me, I have the feeling that they do not have the slightest clue about what I want to do!
And what I want to do is a hard question. I have always known that I wanted to be a writer, but it took me quite some time to narrow down what kind. After writing for the school newspaper, an internship in New York City and then my various newspaper classes, I have finally decided to attempt to break into the world of theatre journalism. Now this category of journalism may not be mainstream, but personally I’m okay with that. In this bubble are quite a few popular publications who I would be MORE than happy to lend my services to! But for my classmates, I don’t think the answer is coming that easily.
The conversations I’ve had with people as our graduation date looms closer is basically, “I don’t want to write for newspapers, but I do want a job.” I’ve read countless articles about how getting a degree in something you love is better than being miserable at a job. Now that we’ve made that choice, I have to agree with this line of thinking. But for the people out there who do want to be journalists, how do you narrow down what type of writer you want to be if you’ve never thought of it before?
This is definitely NOT an easy task. If I hadn’t been thinking about theatre journalism for the past few years, I’d probably be stuck in this boat actually. Writing and journalism can lend themselves to a multitude of things, whether that be non-profit press, public relations, publishing and all sorts of other things. Types of writing though I feel like is a different animal.
Sadly, they do not hand you a diagram as a journalism major and say, “here’s what you should do.” It would be helpful definitely, but not life changing. As writers we know how to get out there and find the story, so apply that same tactic to finding out what to do for a career is a good place to start. Also knowing what you’re passionate about writing about is a good start too. You don’t want to be holed up in an office wanting to gouge your eyes out, so pick something that you love already and bug people about jobs. And if you feel the need, research some more. The process may be annoying, but as recent graduates, I think we can take the pain now if we get the job we want later!
One of the conversations that has come up recently between me and my fellow Journalism majors is how the public does not seem to trust journalists. As those writing the stories this is a crazy notion to us, but I can see where the public is coming from. With so many questionable news sources out there, it is very hard to know how accurate, or even truthful, a news story is. As a reporter, there is nothing I hate more than fake journalism! I read an issue of “People,” and I cringe when I see entire stories not attributed to any sources. I think how did that even get published since it seems the story is based off of hearsay rather than fact. But if you look at a story from say “The New York Times,” you will find sentence after sentence of quotes and attributions from sources. I have often wondered how worth my time it is to go after a source since it takes quite a bit of work to track someone down, but after reading the final product I am always happy that I did. For the majority of the time, journalists are most likely the most trustworthy people out there since they want the information to be accurate just as much as the person they talk to does. But the real question here is, how do we as journalists prove to the public that we are trustworthy? This is not an easy question to answer, and it will probably take years of building our reputations to do so. We discussed yesterday in class how nice it would be to be the reporter that our newspaper, website, or whatever organization we are working for, turns to when they need any type of story covered. Not only does this mean your trustworthy, but you have gotten to the point in your career where people actually enjoy reading what you have to say. We are all just starting out in our careers, and in a matter of weeks we will walk across the stage and enter the real world. We are all in agreement that we want to be the type of journalists that people trust, but we also want to be the journalists that people can talk to about anything. Journalists are human beings, and there will be times when we do get things wrong. But for the most part, the public needs to remember that journalists are okay people to be around, and more than okay to talk to, no matter the situation!
In class today, while discussing the book “Blur,” an interesting topic came up. The book asked us, “Is what we know enough?” In an age where news is all around us, there are SO many things to know! The hard part is what exactly do we focus on. Whether it be politics, pop culture, the economy or a handful of other topics, we have to ask ourselves have we left every rock unturned when it comes to being in the know. As journalists, we are expected to bring today’s headlines to the masses, so many people assume that we are in the know about today’s current topics. But in reality, we are trudging through Twitter, Facebook, newspaper websites, and news websites just like everyone else. The difference is we have to delve deeper than just a news blurb. We have to figure out how to make what we know interesting for everyone else which can often be a very difficult job. And when we do not make it interesting, or even get the facts wrong, we get called out for it. This is when what we know may not be enough. But when we do know something, it can lead to everything. We cannot sit idle and watch stories pass us by. We need to get out there and find them. We need to have our feelers out there, scoping everything out. We also need to know what we don’t know and find out more. The work of a Journalist NEVER stops, but that is all a part of the fun of it.
As a senior in college looking towards graduation in a few short weeks, I have a few decisions to make. How to study for all my exams is one, but the more pressing question is what and where will I be working once I walk across the stage. I have worked for a newspaper and done an internship. These sound like good things in theory that would get me a job, but I have a sinking feeling that it will take a lot more than that to get the job that I actually want. I have a friend from working on the campus newspaper who recently blogged about how she is leaving Journalism. She graduated last December, and immediately began working for a small local paper. I would see posts on Facebook from her periodically, and it sounded like she was loving her job…. at first. Then she posted last week about how just after a year, she was burned out from Journalism and was planning to leave the small paper for a large PR firm in Atlanta. Most of the people I have come in contact with in the Journalism department have worked for a newspaper at one point or another, and have said it is a great start to get your foot in the door. But now, I don’t know if I even want to start there. I may be getting a Journalism degree, but I am wondering whether it is even feasible to start out using it right away or if newspapers are even the right fit for me. I have big dreams that involve living in New York City and writing. But what am I going to have to do to get there is the biggest question right now. I love Journalism, and I love writing, but it may be awhile til I can make money at it.
In almost all of my Journalism classes, my classmates and I have learned “how to write.” Whether that be for a news story, feature writing or opinions/editorials, each type of writing has its own style. But we as reporters also have our own style. I can remember entering college, and being the recent high school graduate that I was, I thought I knew how to write. Three and a half years later and quite a few Journalism classes under my belt, I can honestly say now I had no clue how to write! I was still in the mindset of writing for English and History classes, using words I know I would NEVER use in an article I would write tomorrow! For some reason, I thought that writing in an elevated tone was the way to go when I started out. Now, I see that is probably not the best writing style. You want to engage the readers, not write as if you know everything. And you also want the story to read like an actual story, NOT a History textbook! The hard part about this is though finding your true writing voice does not come so easily. After living with an English major for the past two years, I have seen just about every writer I know try and figure out how THEY want to sound in their stories and articles. Yes we can read countless award-winning stories and say “I want to do THIS in my own writing,” but their voices and styles are different from our own. Yes we are still learning, and will surely do so for the next few years as we get into our careers. The one thing that I want to do before I walk across the stage in May though is have a definite idea of how I want to sound once I start writing. This is going to require some soul searching, and probably multiple rewrites, but in the end I will have an identity whenever I sit down to write which to me is an incredible thing!
The past few days, I have been talking with my fellow Journalism majors about what we will be doing post-graduation. I have the months counted down to graduation already, and as the day draws nearer and nearer I am slowly but surely becoming more terrified of what comes after I leave this mountain. The nightly news blatantly tells us soon-to-be-graduates that it is grim out there. Ask any one of my friends who walked last year, and they can tell you that it is no cakewalk in the real world. And what’s even worse is we hear all the time that “Journalism is dying,” or even morbid, “Journalism is dead.” Now, I being the eternal optimist know that Journalism is not dead, it is just going through a metamorphosis. But right now, that is not helping the job situation. So many people think that all Journalism is is newspapers, televisions or magazines. But I see so much more for myself and my degree! I wrote for the campus newspaper my sophomore year, and have to say that after my year there I knew I was NOT cut out to be a traditional newspaper Journalist. This left me mystified since that had always been my plan. I wasn’t left hanging in the balance for long though because after interning with a Broadway Production Company in New York City almost two years ago, I realized I want to be a theatre Journalist, covering the hustle and bustle of the New York theatre scene. I’ve been getting the “what will you do after graduation” quite a lot these days, and when I tell people my plan,they are surprised, then confused about how that fits into Journalism. Going off of what my classmates and I have said, there are not very many of us who actually want to go into working for newspapers or magazines. We all want something a little different, whether that be television reporting, publishing, or working for non-profit groups. Whatever it is though our degrees are just slips of paper, they do not necessarily define where we will work.
One thing I have always said about Journalism is that I liked telling people’s stories. I remember the first time I realized what I journalist was, I was around five or six, and my dad worded it to me as “someone who tells people’s stories.” When I heard that, I remember thinking, “that’s what I want to do.” Obviously, I’ve never looked back. I’ve been writing since I was a sophomore in high school, but it took me til my sophomore year in college when I was working for the campus newspaper to really GET what being a Journalist was. That idea has only grown, and I can now say more than ever that I love what I will be doing after I graduate. As many Journalism students have experienced, part of being a Journalism major in college is writing stories on a weekly basis while covering a certain beat. I’ve had to do this for two of my Journalism classes, and have always geared more towards the Culture and Lifestyles beats. I don’t know if it’s because I consider myself to be artsy, or that I can relate to people, but I often find myself being wrapped up in the stories that my interview subjects tell me during my time with them. Some are amazing, some are heartbreaking, others are just what we like to call life. But in the end, their story helps me write one of my own. And I absolutely LOVE the interviews when someone tells me “I’m so happy you’re covering this, it doesn’t happen very often.” There is something so satisfying to me about bringing attention to a topic that may not be so popular, and realizing “I may have just brightened this person’s day, or even more” by simply talking to them about whatever it is that they’re involved with. Yes I have had moments where I’ve been given some incredible assignments, like the time I got to talk to Bill Cosby who talked to me for so long he made me late for my next class. Or the time that I got to talk to about six students at Appalachian who were trying out for the television show “Glee.” Yes those assignments were fun to do, but it is the less popular topics, like the disappearing of outdoor dramas from North Carolina, or the importance of arts education, that I have enjoyed writing about the most. Just goes to show you that you do not have to have a Pulitzer Prize winning topic to make a difference, you just have to write.