Why some sell out and others don’t

Fascinating stuff over at Meranda Watling’s blog – she’s a local journalist in Ohio – watching a colleague who joined a year after her (and she’s only been there a couple of years max) go off to a super-well-paid job in government:

So, when I asked him today why he decided to take the other job (aside from the obvious pay increase and daytime hours, lack of weekends, lack of people yelling at you or returning your calls, shorter commute, etc.), he was pretty blunt. Basically, he said, ‘If I’m going to hate my job, I might as well be well compensated.’ Not that his job was terrible or that he didn’t like it, but he said he could only cover so many CAFO meetings where no one would talk to him. Plus, he said he’s resigned himself to the fact that he won’t like any job. But he figures, it’s only eight hours a day.

I laughed at his bluntness. And then I pondered, ‘I could sell out for that much money.’ And he was quick to reply, ‘No you couldn’t.’ To which I protested, ‘Why not?’ And his reply, which kind of cements the difference between me and a lot of journalists, ‘How many posts have you made on happyjournalist?’

I’d not seen happyjournalist (though I think I’ve seen it mentioned; in contrast to angryjournalist, below)..

I guessed two posts. But he corrected me, three. He had read them all, apparently. He’s a bigger fan of angryjournalist. But that’s another point entirely.

The differences between this reporter and myself span much more than the month and a half age difference, the colleges where we earned our degrees or the states we claim as our homes.

There is something fundamental that many working journalists don’t get: You can’t just ‘do’ journalism. You have to want to effect change — however small and however many unreturned phone calls or boring meetings it takes. You have to care about the community you cover, whether it’s a topic or a geographic region or both. You need to have a purpose. You have to believe in it.

Absolutely. Got it in one.

If you don’t take it to heart, then you’re not going to enjoy journalism. Those meetings will just be three hour wastes of your youth, and the stories you write, just another byline to fill your quota. You’re not going to be happy. And you know what, my soon-to-be-former colleague is absolutely right: If you’re going to hate your job, you may as well be paid well to hate it. Or as I often say, ‘I’m not paid enough to hate my job.’”

Yeah. I’ve just always enjoyed doing this. I recall working in the civil service, right at the beginning of my career, and looking out the window and being beyond bored. It’s too much fun making mischief and discovering it. Plus this week – for the second time in my life – I was rung out of the blue by a minister who wanted to talk to me, specifically, which always flatters. (In both cases, because of the Free Our Data campaign. Which is quite a good purpose, just now.)

Meranda’s right – though I think too that journalism will always have people who just care about getting it right. But what we’ll live on, hmm.. I looked at the price of the London flat I bought 20 years ago (and sold about 10 years ago). I couldn’t afford it on my wages now. It’s not just public sector workers being priced out of houses – though it’s them too, of course.

(Via Meranda Writes.)

1 Comment

  1. You have a missing close quote on the first link, which causes it all to go a bit funky here (Safari 3.1 and Firefox 3beta). The first para just reads ‘_happyjournalist_?’ linking to something with most of the content.

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