Shortly after I lost my job with the NJ Jewish News, I spoke with an editor at the NY Post. His family was a client of my wife’s veterinary house call practice and had told her to have me give him a call. It was just a courtesy thing, I told her, and sure enough there were no job openings. Which was fine, because while I needed a job, preferably in print journalism, I had no desire to work for the Post. Their reputation may or may not have been great as a business model, but as a model for questionable journalistic ethics, well, that was generally accepted. All this was reconfirmed by an article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Julia Dahl, a former writer for the tabloid.
Like Dahl, I had no experience in writing for a newspaper when I took the job at NJJN. All dues respect, I didn’t even consider weekly community enterprises like this newspapers. Like Dahl, I had to learn to overcome my shyness and fears in asking people questions I consider intrusive and an imposition. My first real story involved interviewing survivors of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Another tough one was about suicide. But these were nothing compared with things the Post and its kind did on a daily basis.
There were a number of similarities between Dahl and myself. From the CJR article:
I DIDN’T GROW UP dreaming of being a reporter. My mom suggested I join the high school paper my senior year because I was “good at writing.” That was true. I got easy As in English…
And while this part never happened to me, it was quite an eye-opener:
But while I credit journalism school with imbuing in me a sense of the seriousness of my chosen career, it did not prepare me for the work I encountered at the Post – or, in some ways, for my work since. It didn’t prepare me for the kinds of compromises I was going to be asked to make in the name of sales (or “clicks”) and deadlines, or for a competitive story. [my emphasis added] It didn’t prepare me for the time my editor bought me a floor seat at a Knicks game and instructed me to hold up a giant sign that said “Fire Isaiah” until security kicked me out. (They didn’t kick me out. Instead, a news photographer “made” me as participating in a stunt, and I bailed, angry and ashamed I’d folded to the pressure to go in the first place. The next day, the editor who had sent me admitted the whole thing was a bad idea.) It didn’t prepare me to chase Paul McCartney’s new girlfriend through a grocery store for a quote. And it didn’t prepare me for the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times people I talked to told me I was scum for doing my job.
Reporters are often found on the lists of profession most-hated. According to this source,
Idealistic young journalists look back on a golden age of journalism that may not have been so grand after all. Time and again, the same greats’ names are uttered breathlessly, with hushed reverence — Murrow and Cronkite, Woodward and Bernstein. The profession that once inspired so much admiration now regularly resides at the bottom of public approval polls. Unfortunately, for many people the lines between the bottom-feeding, sensationalistic blogger who can string together a couple of sentences and the trained industry professional have become almost indistinguishable.
In fact, a lot of the jobs that came up in my employment searches were for writers to put together a lot of short stories in a little amount of time for almost no money. You’ve seen these pieces, I’m sure: lots of links, often in the form of “slide shows” that make you click and click until you get to the actual heart of the matter.
This is what it’s come to, alas…
If you don’t want to watch the whole 19-minute segment (sadly, well worth it), try this, which appears at the end. But then you;re just feeding into the whole problem of shortened attention spans. Just sayin’.