An Annenberg classmate had a get-together last weekend in Downtown Los Angeles. She got a job as staffer for an exciting campaign out of state and invited some people to catch up at a bar before she left. I was in the area anyway, so I went early...and quickly realized that spending an hour alone at a bar isn’t very fun. So with an Old Fashioned in my hand, I turned to one of my biggest boredom-fighting habits; I pulled out my journal and began to write.
I don’t go out much so I was probably breaking some sort of bar etiquette. Perhaps it’s tolerable to be alone at a bar, because there’s a possibility that said loner might chat with a random person. But being alone at a bar and writing? It kind of screams anti-social. Still, in a slightly egotistical moment I fancied myself as a female *Fitzgerald or Hemingway as I sipped from my cocktail and wrote...even though I had to cut myself off at five sips.
The funny thing is that just like my Annenberg classmate, I’m not putting my journalism degree to use in the journalism field.
Not that this is unique. There are a lot of people who end up doing something unrelated to their major, just look at our Tweeter-in-Chief. The pressure to deviate from journalism is something that all reporters seem to face at one point or another, with the burnout that comes from having a 24/7 news cycle. While there are more positions open in newsrooms for reporters who specialize in VR, 360 video and other innovative reporting techniques, I still hear stories about bumps and changes in others’ careers. An acquaintance recently had her radio show pulled from the air, for instance, and another took a buyout from PEOPLE magazine to do marketing and social media instead.
For the past couple days, I’ve thought a lot about the former gossip columnist Liz Smith, whom The New York Times recently profiled in their Lions of New York series. Many look down on tabloids, but Smith was the influencer of her time. Her column created stars and boosted celebrity careers until the New York Post let her go in 2009. The part that stood out was that she was willing to accept less pay, and even no pay, just to have a byline. And with her name fading from public memory at 94, Smith still wants to write if someone will take her.
I went to school with the news versions of Liz Smith, each of them a talented and ambitious game changer. I wish them a more satisfied retirement than what she seems to be experiencing. Smith’s profile, however, shed a light on how much I’m not willing to give up security for the sake of writing at this point of my life. It’s a hard truth for me to face after spending so much of college pursuing that path.
During freshman year, for instance, I spent a day in the field for my first feature. I interviewed special high school counselors in the San Fernando Valley and South L.A. who helped students in danger of dropping out and who dropped out. Interviewing them made me so happy and inspired that I literally felt like I was going to burst, and ran into the Neon Tommy office in the old Annenberg building to tell my mentor about it.
"THIS is what I want to do," I told him. "I'm in the right major. I'm in the right field."
"You are," he told me.
But I understand myself a little better than when I entered journalism school a few years ago. In order to do what’s best for my mental health, I need the structure of a 9 to 5 job that won’t put me in proximity to scenes of despair. After being financially insecure for most of my life, I need some semblance of stability. And even though I’m not taking a full-time journalism job at this point, I still want to tell stories that entertain, inform and make people feel good. I met many former journalists who switched to working in communications and marketing who didn’t lose that passion for storytelling.
Such is Cassie Patton, my former editor (RIP Neon Tommy) who has a blog and newsletter for those who love writing. She recently took on a full time non-writing position and opened up about it, "I've talked here before about how wrapped up in my identity writing has been and how I've tried to disentangle myself from that enough to see clearly the alternatives that might actually be healthier for me."
And that's what I'm doing right now.
I still have a passion for journalism and new ways people convey information, which is why I'm going to challenge myself to write on this blog weekly. I still support the efforts for press freedom around the world and I will fight for it. I still believe that I didn’t make a mistake in being a journalism major, and I wouldn’t trade my experience as a reporter for anything.
Journalism, however, isn't my only option to tell a story. And I need to prioritize my health over passions that might not be so healthy for me in the long run. At the end of the day I’m just chasing that high to tell stories that make lives better, and I can do that in multiple ways.
While I might not always be a journalist, I will always be a writer.
*Turns out that my favorite cocktail most closely follows William Faulkner's love for whiskey. Slightly disappointed because I'm not a huge fan.
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