Why it’s still a good time to be a young journalist

When I moved from Baltimore to Dallas seven years ago this month for a one-year internship at The Dallas Morning News, I knew one person in the city. He was my best friend from college at the University of Maryland and he too worked as a reporter at the paper here.

So on my 23rd birthday, days after my arrival and before my first day on the job, that friend took me out for pizza. As a present, he gave me one of his favorite journalism movies, The Paper.

Released in 1994, it’s the story of a New York City tabloid editor, Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton), who is described on IMDB as, “a workaholic who loves his job, but the long hours and low pay are leading to discontent. Also, publisher Bernie White (Robert Duvall) faces financial straits, and has hatchetman Alicia Clark (Glenn Close), Henry’s nemesis, impose unpopular cutbacks.”

I’m not arguing that a Michael Keaton movie proves anything about the history of newspapers, other than the fact that key themes of former journalist Allyson Bird’s viral blog post, “Why I left news,” are not new.

Long before the internet and social media ruled our industry, we were expected to sacrifice our personal lives and make ourselves available at all hours. And while it’s true that many journalism institutions once had enough cash to bankroll foreign bureaus and cross-country trips for major breaking news, anyone who says they set out in any era to be a print journalist for the money is either lying or delusional.

As White tells Clark in one of my favorite scenes of The Paper, “If you try to make this job about the money, you’ll be nothing but miserable because we don’t get the money. Never have, never will.”

I can relate to the burnout, the frustration and the unhappiness that drove Bird to leave journalism. I experience all of those feelings on a regular basis, in part because of the human pain I’ve seen in my newsroom and others around the country in recent years. The same friend who took me out for pizza seven years ago was laid off a few years after that. He’s one of many beloved colleagues who lost their jobs, took a buyout or left the industry for reasons similar to what Bird cited.

Yet for all my peers who have left the industry behind, I have at least as many friends who are blazing paths at The Dallas Morning News and many other publications, including Politico, The Texas Tribune, ESPN, CNN, ProPublica, NPR, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

I know people around my age who have published books, made a decent living as freelance writers or jumped from newspapers to television news and back again. I’ve also enjoyed my own limited success, turning that one-year internship into a full-time job that I maintain today.

None of that really explains why I’m still working for a newspaper, so I’ll try to explain that without sounding too cliche. I’ve enjoyed telling meaningful stories at least as far back as my days on my high school newspaper. The people I’ve been blessed to write about in recent years have changed my life and, hopefully, the lives of some of those people and perhaps even a few readers.

While the number of people who get their hands dirty with newsprint every morning has declined drastically, the potential for my work to reach audiences around the world has never been greater. I often find myself experimenting with new digital journalism tools that did not exist weeks or months earlier. And, yes, some of those same tools are used to produce some damn cute animal pet videos, photos or memes.

That’s what makes it so exciting to be a young journalist today. It’s hard to imagine another time when journalists — particularly the young and digitally savvy — had as much opportunity to reshape the nature of what we do through blogs, apps, videos, photos and tweets. John Clanton of the Tulsa World did a great job capturing his own reasons for why he continues to love this business.

Successful digital startups, nonprofits and numerous evolving and innovative newspaper companies (including those previously mentioned) have already proven that there is money to be made in today’s journalistic environment, if not quite the same level of profits as when Keaton was playing a newspaperman. These companies, including my own, have also proven there is an absolute hunger and need for old-fashioned investigative and longform journalism.

Still, I hope very much that veteran journalists take notice of the frustrations of younger journalists and former journalists like Bird. As adaptable and tech savvy as many of us in our 20s and 30s might be, we cannot defy logic. We cannot do more with less and for less money. But we do want to produce meaningful, quality work on multiple platforms. We want to experiment with new tools and we want to learn the skills that could translate to television, radio and the web.

So just as I encourage high school and college journalists to stay the course and push for change, I call on the older veterans of our industry to open their eyes to our ideas and our concerns in more than token ways. It saddens me that young journalists like Bird would choose to leave our industry so soon after starting their careers.

I hope the discussion prompted by her piece is one that we continue to have within the profession so we can find ways to hold on to young journalists like her.

Scott Goldstein is a reporter and blogger for The Dallas Morning News and a 2005 graduate of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. He can be reached at sgoldstein83@gmail.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/JaneEliz Jane Elizabeth

    Yes, news organizations need to find ways to “hold on to young journalists.” But perhaps not “like her.” I’m truly sorry her dream job turned into a nightmare, but it’s good she moved on. Journalism does not need the dispirited right now. Or martyrs, for that matter. http://bit.ly/11ihmHd

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717583338 Karl Idsvoog

    And did you complain in writing to the Dean and the President of the University with specific criticisms? Did they respond?

  • John Stewart

    I went back and checked. The OES makes it a litle difficult to figure because they pulled “broadcast news analysts” out of the category in 2004. However, it appears that reporters and correspondents declined from 60,000 in 2000 to just 45,000 last year — a 25 percent decline. It will come as no surprise to members of the tribe that the number of PR specialists increased in the same period from about 130,000 to more than 200,0000 last year. The number has declined, thank God, in recent years due to the recession. I can’t help but think that the explosion of PR jobs must have to do with the whole anti-science, anti-evidence ethos championed by George W. Bush. The decline in the number of PR jobs since Obama was elected may be a sign of a return to evidenced-based cogitation. The number of reporter, correspondent jobs has been steady the last three years.

  • John Stewart

    I just read the other day that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the number of people employed as News Analysts, reporters and correspondents has fallen from 65,000 in 2000 to 50,000 last year. I’m going to go back and see if that decline was constant or whether we are on an upswing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jay.E.Banks James Banks

    Very Inspirational. I am a freshman in college in Alabama. My family thinks I am wasting money and time by choosing to major in journalism. I love to write and I will continue to do it. Thank you so much.

  • http://twitter.com/itsjamestapper James Tapper

    “I’ll try to explain that without sounding too cliche.” You wouldn’t say a phrase is too formula, or a dish is too salt, or a person is too tire. Why do people have such trouble using the word “cliched”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    “And, yes, some of those same tools are used to produce some damn cute animal pet videos, photos or memes.

    That’s what makes it so exciting to be a young journalist today.”

    Seriously? Memes?

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    “(A)nd yet, I don’t know anyone who does this job who can imagine doing anything else.” Your idol is saying the same thing heard around the country. Those words and a quarter might buy something tiny.

    Just saying: “We can’t imagine doing anything else” means several things. It means that person likely won’t improve. It means that person is probably a crappy journalist because of a lack of imagination and lack of knowledge about why people in other fields do what they do.

    The writers who sell out to the mantra of “We can’t do anything else, and we know we’re stuck here” are poor journalists. They have given up the desire that would make them better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidchristopherschick David Schick

    Thank you so very much! As a journalism student, I really needed this.

    I have written a couple of recent blogs about how I’m so tired of the negative and pessimistic outlook portrayed on journalism by veterans (Nate Thayer) and newcomers of the industry.

    To quote a journalist I admire, “Writing is hard, thankless work … the money sucks even if you manage to find a job … and yet, I don’t know anyone who does this job who can imagine doing anything else.”

    This article is the equivalent to a spark of plutonium for me (fuel to carry on for years).

    And, I totally agree that “there is an absolute hunger and need for old-fashioned investigative and longform journalism.” (that part gave me chills)

    Once again, this was very well put. I appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/BrentKHOU Brent Taylor

    Brett, I mean no disrespect, but you can’t hate journalism because you haven’t even done it yet. A HS paper editor does not a journalist make.

  • http://twitter.com/dancow Dan Nguyen

    Yes, the journalism industry has always involved an exhausting, underpaid hustle. The difference between now and when Ms. Bird joined a newspaper — back in 2005 — is that young reporters worked hard because we had faith that it would lead to a bigger position/soapbox, either for primarily selfish reasons (more money, stability) or for idealistic reasons (having a bigger soapbox to help society from). The prospects for young journalists today to meet those goals is far, far less, no matter how hard they hustle.

  • http://twitter.com/_racheljackson Rachel Jackson

    I hate my j-school, too, but I love journalism. I don’t want to go on a massive rant here, but journalism schools are killing the interest for journalism, in my opinion. They are so canned, so driven by grades and requirements… And they’re often run by former journalists who haven’t seen the real world of reporting for decades. (At least from my experience.) So I totally get where you’re coming from. I had built up my interest in journalism in high school, too, but I had to look elsewhere for ways to continue building in college, because lord only knows academia wasn’t doing anything. Internships are the way to go these days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brett-Rosen/625038022 Brett Rosen

    Personally, I disagree. I’ve given up on journalism. I’m currently in J-School and hate it. I came in as two-time Editor in Chief of my HS paper, loved it. I loved working freelance as a high school sports reporter. My J-school taught me to hate journalism. So I’ve gone the other way, interning in communications for one of the largest companies in the world and I’m not looking back. I still appreciate journalism and its necessary role, but I won’t be the one creating it.