It seems everyone these days, journalists foremost among them, can’t pronounce journalism dead quickly enough. In a column last year entitled “Journalism’s slow, sad death,” The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson bemoaned the demise of objective reporting. And it’s hard to argue with Gerson when a partisan hack like Andrew Breitbart can pass for a journalist while shamelessly slandering an admirable public servant.
The immediate picture doesn’t get any brighter on the financial side, with news outlets across the country hemorrhaging jobs. As if to underscore the point, USA Today recently laid off nine percent of its workforce.
On that cheery note, I hereby announce my intention to become a journalist.
I assure you my motives aren’t masochistic. If they were, I would go work hundred-hour weeks on Wall Street. But I digress. After a richly rewarding summer interning at The Nation magazine, the country’s longest-running weekly, I’d like to make a brief pitch for a once-proud profession more Penn students should consider before running off to the nearest OCR event. Here’s why:
1. Youth is a virtue.
Forget about patiently waiting your turn for some old geezer to call it quits before you can stop fetching coffee. Journalism is full of young people doing some of the most important reporting out there. Heck, The Nation even ran a few articles of mine.
Especially today, with technological savvy so valued, young talent is a prized commodity. Look no further than baby-faced wunderkind Ezra Klein, who started writing for The American Prospect at 21, founded the now famous/infamous liberal listserv “Journolist” at 22, and then moved to the Washington Post last year at 25.
2. You’ll never have to pay for a new book again.
There aren’t many financial perks to being a journalist, but a big one is the free books. When a journalist (or his intern) calls up a publishing house to request a review copy of a book, you can practically hear the publicity rep running to the mailbox as she hangs up the phone to send it out.
“Review copy” is after all a widely-understood misnomer. As far as I know, the writers for whom I requested literally hundreds of review copies never actually reviewed a single one. Still, publicists are ecstatic to ship off free copies to journalists in the hope that a one or two might just mention the book in an upcoming article.
3. Cool people will actually want to talk to you.
OK, not all of them are that cool. But as a general rule, people like speaking to reporters—even lowly intern ones. Hit them with the words “Hi, I’m a reporter calling from XYZ magazine,” and boom! You’ll be talking to US Senators’ press secretaries and world-renowned scholars in no time.
This realization came as something of a shock after my last summer’s internship in the Defense Department, where I was literally forbidden from making phone calls after nearly provoking a full-blown interagency war (or so I like to think). When my calling privileges were restored, I had to pretend to be doing a research project for school, a strategy which actually worked pretty well. (Although seriously, people who believed my story, who the fuck does a school project on FEMA reorganization?)
4. Journalists know how to have a good time.
I don’t mean to keep shitting on my previous internship, but I think it was after one of the editors ordered the third round of tequila shots for everyone at the intern welcome party that I tried to imagine any of the Defense Department honchos from last summer doing the same. I couldn’t.
5. You can wear whatever you like.
I take that back. I wouldn’t recommend sports bras, beachwear or soccer pinnies. Other than that, most anything else goes—polo shirts, tie-dye shirts, shorts, sneakers, sandals. I’d always pity my friend, who worked at a nearby investment bank, when we’d meet up for lunch. He’d be sweating his ass off in his suit and tie, while I’d be chilling in shorts and a T-shirt.
6. You can travel on someone else’s dime.
It’s true that news publications have cut back dramatically on overseas bureaus and coverage, but plenty of avenues remain to fund your travels through a laptop and an enterprising spirit. Whether you land a gig with a national paper or freelance, there’s something to be said for a job that picks up the tab for your globetrotting adventures.
7. You can make a difference.
Few professions offer as much power to impact important issues and debates. This summer reaffirmed journalism’s enduring influence with a series of bombshell stories, including the Rolling Stone Stanley McChrystal profile and the WikiLeaks revelations. Whether your passions lie in matters a few blocks down the road or a few thousand miles overseas, a compelling story can shed light on forgotten topics and places, shape how your readers see the world around them and effect real change.
Consider this: Nick Kristof has over 165,000 fans on Facebook. Who knew the road to world domination passed through heartrending stories of genocide and human trafficking?
8. Journalism isn’t dead.
Reports of journalism’s death, it turns out, are greatly exaggerated.
Yes, newspapers are shedding jobs. Yes, circulation is down. And yes, much of journalism these days is crap at best, downright poison at worst.
But, I submit, journalism’s future has never been more exciting. Traffic at US newspaper websites is at record highs. Add to that people getting their news from blogs and other nontraditional sources, and the demand for information today is unprecedented. This brave new world of blogs, tweets and retweets, multimedia and social networking can be disorienting for those raised on a steady diet of The New York Times and The New Republic, but for a burgeoning generation of journalists, it provides a unique opportunity to fundamentally shape the direction of an entire industry.
With such immense possibility out there, surely somebody can find a workable business model!
So there’s my pitch. I hope you were persuaded. And if not, you’ve just made my job search for next year a little bit easier.