Journalism is just like any other job. As long as by “any other job,” you mean “journalism.”
A newsroom is a factory in a sense; we produce a product each and every day. It’s also kind of an office; we have desks and phones and computers. But at the end of the day, a newsroom can only be defined as a newsroom.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked in six different newsrooms. They’ve each had their own personality, but all shared similar qualities. Four of those newsrooms were for daily newspapers. The other two were at radio stations. They were all, fun, exciting and sometimes stressful. They were also full of crazy people.
It’s not a job
The one thing I tell everyone about being a member of the media is that it’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle. While some of my stints had me punching a clock, I worked from morning to night. Every day.
You pay attention to everything. And you start to judge things based on their news value. A kitten in a tree suddenly becomes a photo opportunity. The fact that everybody’s favorite restaurant is closing leaves you conflicted because you really like their spaghetti sauce but you suddenly know what will lead tomorrow’s news.
People will call, text and email you 24 hours a day to complain about mundane things and give you “tips.” They don’t know and/or care that you “work” from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. They’re up at 8 o’clock in the morning and they start using the phone at 9. Setting your phone to silent might work, but you won’t do that because you’ll be afraid to miss something.
If it were a job it would pay
Everyone wishes they made more money. But journalism jobs offer paltry pay. Most journalism jobs pay slightly better than retail management positions. I have friends who tend bar who make more than I do.
That’s not to say that you can’t make decent money as a journalist, but you’d better be prepared to be completely cutthroat and move to a big city. The bigger the paper, radio station or television station, the better the pay is. This is evened out by a higher level of office politics and lower job security.
We don’t hate each other
Just because your local NBC and ABC affiliate have an on-air feud, doesn’t mean they actually hate each other. When they camera’s not rolling, they’re probably trading office stories or sitting down for a cold one.
I have friends at every newspaper, radio and television station in the Buffalo area. Sometimes we help each other out. Occasionally we have lunch. Often we have drinks.
You will become cynical
Those news “tips” you get at 9 a.m. when you’re trying to sleep will often not pan out. They’ll be complete fantasy or deeply rooted in political agendas. You’ll hear about new businesses, scandals and any number of things that will be completely made up. As Fox Mulder would say, “Trust No One.”
You will love it
Despite its downfalls, journalism offers a rush that you can’t get from other jobs. It’s fun being the first to know things. And being considered “important” in the community in which you work doesn’t hurt either.
Scott Leffler is a newspaper editor. He lives in the Buffalo area with his daughters.