Allyson Bird explains further ‘why I left the news’

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Allyson Bird, the 28-year-old author of a now-viral blog post detailing why she left journalism, explained in an e-mail interview that she battled against the realities of being asked to do more work for less pay.

I had survived the staff reductions at The Palm Beach Post and then more of the same at The Post and Courier, followed by furloughs. Lower pay and no raises will kill morale, sure, but I think some of that can be overcome with a sense of community. I remember that the managing editor at The Palm Beach Post, Bill Rose, used to read over my shoulder and check out my lede whenever I had a 1A story on deadline. I’d hold my breath every time. Moments like that are worth more than an extra 2 percent pay every year.

Moving back to her hometown of Charleston, S.C., was a decision spurred by her father’s diagnosis of cancer in 2008. “He only lived for 10 more weeks after I came home, and making the decision to return to Charleston was one of the best I’ve made in my life,” she writes.

She found a position on the Post and Courier’s business desk almost immediately, which was a stroke of luck, and eventually worked her way back into covering criminal justice. But it came with a pay reduction, which ultimately proved untenable. Bird now works at the Medical University of South Carolina, and is unsure whether working at another publication would have had any effect on her outlook.

I don’t know if I would have stayed longer if I had been working somewhere else, because I wasn’t. I finally had returned to the criminal justice beat, and I still loved the work — the writing, the people I met, the stories themselves. I broke the Veronica adoption story, a case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court next month, while searching for a way out of the newspaper. I vacillated tremendously about leaving but ultimately found a job where I write every day. And I’m happy.

Bird’s blog post, published Tuesday, went viral among journalists and drew a lot of attention to her. “I think my phone and email are now co-authoring a blog post about why they had to leave me,” she notes. It has sparked myriad online discussions about current publishing strategies, what is expected of journalists, and how much they should be paid.

Doug Fisher, one of her former instructors at the University of South Carolina, called her “one of the best students I’ve ever had” on his own blog. He wrote that the message Bird is conveying is clear.

I think our audience is telling us very simply: We can get the “more” if we want it very easily. But if you want our loyalty and engagement, the formula isn’t more, but better — do what you do well.

Related: Tulsa World Multimedia Producer John Clanton wrote a counterargument to Bird’s piece, titled “Why I love the News.”

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  • Robert Knilands

    Maybe it wasn’t for her. But some of the people posting that are in the category I described earlier. They got into the business for weak reasons and have been allowed to stay. Why would they criticize a place that lets them sit around, do very little, do NOTHING with guidance every step of the way, criticize anyone who doesn’t want to guide them every step of the way, and have exceptionally low standards of quality? Too often, those are the people who hang around.

  • Guest

    I don’t know where I ever said she didn’t “like it enough” to stay. I think she has many valid points. I was in journalism for 6 years. I have bachelor’s in journalism. I left in 2005. I have been through many layoffs, buyouts and changes in industry because my husband is still in it. I completely agree that there is a lot of dead weight in many newsrooms, people who should have been let go a long time ago. My issue with Bird’s piece is the complete negativity. I think print is going through a huge transition—some of it good and some of it bad. I am sure each individual’s experience depends on the newsroom where they work and the company that bought their paper. (And management, of course.) I guess my husband and I were lucky in that we were never laid off, never had furloughs, etc. But we both worked at small papers and eventually went on to bigger papers. My husband makes decent money because he stuck with it and moved around. I left because it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. But I have encouraged my husband to stay with it because he loves it. I didn’t get any sense that Bird “loved” the business but felt she had to leave it. And that is fine. In the comments section of her blog, many people wrote “it sounds like journalism just wasn’t for you.” And I agree with that. But I am not disregarding her points or arguing that she doesn’t make good points. But when she says things like “I don’t know any journalists who aren’t eyeing the exit signs,” it’s basically like “journalism wasn’t for me and everyone I know agrees with me.” I disliked this tone of her blog post. Not everyone in journalism is underpaid. And not everyone is “eyeing the exit signs.”

  • Robert Knilands

    If you are not a non-reader, then why are you still disregarding Martin’s original point? I actually sort of agree with a couple of parts of your newest response, but you are still missing the substance of what you responded to.

  • Guest

    I am not a non-reader. I happen to be married to a passionate journalist who is still doing the work he loves. And he is being paid decent money. So in your opinion, no one should ever become a teacher either? You know, because it doesn’t pay enough. My point is, I know many people who earn a very good living at jobs they hate. And guess what, they go out and spend way too much on “hobbies” to make up for the fact that they hate their jobs. I can sacrifice a little up front so my husband can go to work at a job he loves.

  • Robert Knilands

    Another non-reader. The issue is whether the person makes enough money to support the family Martin described.
    These kinds of responses indicate why journalism will never improve and never pay a decent salary. There are too many grimmbots who are far too eager to proclaim they are so dedicated that they don’t need to be paid.

  • Robert Knilands

    Great response, Andy. Always indicates you have nothing to offer. Don’t you have some ACES dues to collect? Some karaoke to plan? A pointless convention to prepare?

  • Andy Bechtel

    Please do not feed the Knilands troll.

  • Susan Griffing Christensen

    I think you’re missing the point. There used to be more rewards for enduring journalism’s low pay. You had time to do good work and see it make a difference. You felt like management (at least in the newsroom) had your back when the suits wanted to cut corners. During times of high stress, staff pitched in to help each other and that camaraderie kept you going. If you were good enough, you had the hope of going someplace where you might actually make enough money to put your neglected kids through college. And if you wanted to stay in one place, you believed you could count on hard work earning you a job for life. Now it’s do more with less (unless you’re a bonus-happy bigwig), and watch out for furloughs and out-of-the-blue layoffs. Family concerns pushed me out long ago, and like Allyson, I’ve found a satisfying life writing for a hospital. But I’ve seen my husband (shoved out the back door by Gannett) treated miserably by an industry he sacrificed many a night and weekend for. So don’t dog Allyson for being unrealistic. She’s the clear-eyed one. Too bad she didn’t get to be a part of journalism’s heyday. Sound like she would have been a star. The best reporters don’t put up with crap, even from their employers.

  • Guest

    So writing about having a passion for your career and not caring that you make a lot of money because you love it is “an empty response”?

  • MartinBerliner

    And if he could no longer support his wife and two children on the money he makes at his paper, what then? An empty response to a thoughtful essay.

  • Robert Knilands

    She was making an observation, too. You chose to make it into an argument.

    There are people who work hard and long for little compensation. There are also people who go into journalism for idiotic reasons. Usually those are two separate pools.

  • BrotherMatthias

    Half of me agrees with you.

  • thx2600

    I’m glad you’re not hyperventilating. I wasn’t making an argument. I was making what’s called an observation. If you want to make piles of money, work go to work on Wall Street. Do you have some diabolical plan to extract more money from media companies? I would love to hear it.

  • Robert Knilands

    Or maybe not. These days, I think the people with the sense to pull the plug early on this industry have the right idea.

  • Robert Knilands

    No offense, but that’s a dumb argument. It makes sense because it’s been bad forever? Riiiiiiiiight. Hate to break this, but not everyone can work for free. I know Poynter, the grimmbots, and others have yet to realize this, but it is so.

  • thx2600

    “Everyone works so hard for so long and for such little compensation.”

    Yeah, that’s pretty much the way it’s been forever. You picked the wrong profession.

    People don’t go into journalism to make money.

  • BrotherMatthias

    If you think industries in general pay 28-year-olds well, I have a bridge to sell you. You have to stick it out. She worked at two relatively large papers. I understand financial pressures, but had she stuck it out — through the furloughs and recession — she might have had a fulfilling career by 38.