Recently, a blog post by Allison Bird explaining why she left journalism went viral.
Some journalists and ex-journalists thought it hit close to home, others thought Bird was focused too much on the money (or lack thereof in the journalism industry), while others thought Bird was just out of touch.
Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick was one of the members of the latter camps. She wrote a response to Byrd’s post explaining why Byrd was so wrong and what Mallick thought the real issues were.
The headline on Mallick’s piece cuts to the quick: “Allison Bird quit journalism because she she was tired and underpaid.” That statement is valid, but Bird also left journalism for other reasons that Mallick brushes off or chooses to ignore.
I myself recently left the journalism industry. Not out of malice or lack of pay, but because I wanted to do more with social media, more than the traditional media in Canada is doing right now. I found a job which I love. I get to work in the social space every day, I get to meet new people, and I feel I’m still using my journalism skills, just in different ways.
What really bothered me about Mallick’s response was a part in which she takes issue with this quote from Bird:
I don’t know a single person who works in daily news today who doesn’t have her eyes trained on the exit signs.
Apparently, Heather Mallick does not. Young or old, every journalist Mallick knows wants to be a journalist so bad it hurts. Fleeing is the last thing on their minds.
We’ll just set aside the fact that in her post, Bird says she too was one of these journalists who felt they were born to do that job, who wanted to do nothing more for the rest of her life. Instead, here’s my own take.
I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist until I was 17. That was the first time I walked into a newsroom.
I took in the dim lighting, the clusters of desks, the energy and knew immediately I was home. For more than 10 years, I was — I loved every second of being a journalist. Until, I didn’t.
The first time I began to feel uneasy in my industry, I was working at a pagination centre laying out dozens of pages for dozens of papers. Things didn’t feel right anymore. While I was getting paid well and working full time, all the other jobs out there were contract positions. I considered going back to school, but the only thing I could see myself taking was journalism. Not exactly a solution to my problem.
Instead, I took a year-long internship at the Star. During that time, I had my eyes trained on everything but the exit signs. I applied for contract jobs, full-time jobs, any kind of job that came up. I tried my hardest to prove my worth. I loved a lot of what I was doing, but I also missed the old-school journalism I did when I first started when I was 17, before social media, before the web was in the newsroom, back when it was all about words on a page.
But here’s the thing, no matter how much one’s eyes may not be trained on the exit signs, if there are no jobs available, there are no jobs. Full stop. I left the Star after my internship to another contract job, and it would have taken me another six months after that to be offered a steady position.
The journalism industry has changed. It isn’t changing anymore, it’s changed.
I miss a lot about journalism, I do, but I don’t miss the sense of always thinking about work. About wondering if I need to come in to help when news breaks. I don’t miss worrying that in a rush to get something done as fast as possible, I’ll make a huge mistake that everyone will see.
I too always wanted to be a journalist. I imagined I’d be doing it for the rest of my life.
And while I’m not a journalist anymore (hence my term “recovering journalist), it doesn’t mean I don’t still bring my journalism skills to much of what I do. Not just professionally, but here on this blog, too.
Who knows, I might even go back to the journalism industry some day after the dust settles a bit or if the urge grows loud in me again.
Or perhaps Heather Mallick is right. I simply quit because I was tired and underpaid.