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.”