Journalism

Love it or leave it: Three young journalists explain their career emotions

Allyson Bird makes me think of The Bergen Record in New Jersey and the former Accent on Living section at The Detroit News — my first daily newspaper jobs.

I’ve never met or spoken to Allyson, a 28-year-old in Charleston, S.C., but we both were hooked by newspapering as a career where pay isn’t the only reward. I bit for decades. Ally bails after seven years and tells why in a blog post widely reposed and discussed by newsfolks.

She’s a 2005 University of South Carolina grad who started at The Palm Beach Post in Florida as a 21-year-old reporter and moved to The Post and Courier in Charleston. It took just those jobs and less than a decade to feel “the burnout,” as her post puts it.

Allyson began with the drive of an eager reporter who considered no other profession, as she describes in a way that hits home for someone who worked during high school at The Riverdale Press (a weekly still publishing in the Bronx, N.Y):

“I started writing stories for my local newspaper when I was 16. I worked seven internships in college, eager to graduate and get into a newsroom.”

The South Carolinian now trades journalism for hospital development writing (aka fundraising) and compares her first career to “young love, that reckless attraction that consumes you entirely, until one day – suddenly – you snap out of feeling enamored and realize you’ve got to detach.”

Her “Why I Left News” viral essay March 19 prompts counter-posts from peers who haven’t fallen out of love with a profession that remains exhilarating — even (especially?) during a fight for survival. The conversation is worth eavesdropping on:

Allyson Bird says:

Allyson Bird and her pet.

Allyson Bird and her pet

I finally came to accept that the vanity of a byline was keeping me in a job that left me physically and emotionally exhausted, yet supremely unsatisfied. . . .

There was never such a thing as an eight-hour workday at newspapers, but . . . you knew better than to demand fair compensation. . . .

You’re exhausted, and you’re never really “off.” . . . I had never taken a vacation – aside from a few international trips – without some editor calling with a question about a story. . . . You get called out of a sound sleep to drive out to a crime scene and try to talk with surviving relatives. You wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, realizing you’ve misspelled a city councilman’s name. You spend nights and weekends chipping away at the enterprise stories that you never have time to write on the clock.

Everyone works so hard for so long and for such little compensation. . . . I wonder what kind of person, today, enrolls in journalism school? I can’t imagine anyone outside of an affluent family pursuing a career with so little room for financial growth. . . .

I don’t know a single person who works in daily news today who doesn’t have her eyes trained on the exit signs.

Her essay drew more than 300 comments the first two days, including support from other present or past young journalists. She also hears from readers still smitten with journalism as their first career love. “It’s been an interesting 24 hours,” Allyson posted Wednesday afternoon on Facebook. “My phone and email are now co-authoring a blog post about why they had to leave me,” she jokes in a March 21 interview at the Poynter Institute journalism training site.

Elsewhere, these journalists in their 20s tell why they don’t share Ms. Bitter Burnout’s sentiments:

  • Jessica Reynolds, a 2012 graduate of Loyola University Chicago, is the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board coordinator and a contributing editor for one of the paper’s blogs (where comments below appear).
  • Aaron Foley, 28, is associate editor at ward’s Automotive Group in Detroit. His career after Michigan State (’07) includes nearly three years at the Lansing State Journal and three years at MLive.com. (His comments are on Facebook.)

Jessica Reynolds says:

Jessica Reynolds of the Chicago Tribune

Jessica Reynolds of the Chicago Tribune

I can’t rightfully critique the sentiments of someone who worked in journalism long enough to become burnt out, considering I’m still riding with training wheels, but compensation and the thrill of seeing one’s byline should never be motivation to stay.

It’s the researching, storytelling and occasional ability to spark change that’s exciting. Of course, I’m unmarried and childless (and yes, hungry and naive), so it’s easy for me to sit on my high horse and blindly commit to this profession — no matter what.

Where will the future of journalism go? It’s a question asked daily in Tribune Tower, and the newspaper is doing its best to adapt to the evolving readership and its preferences. I can only hope news has a healthy, purposeful and infinite life ahead.

Aaron Foley says:

Aaron Foley of Ward's

Aaron Foley of Ward’s

This thing is filling up my news feed today [March 20]. Sounds like she has bigger issues with her working environments and her editors rather than the actual news business.

I’m 28 and haven’t left the news. And while I do have some of the same gripes she has, I know not to make sweeping generalizations about the industry as a whole. It makes our generation look terrible.

So you got a jerky editor — big deal, they’ve been around for years.

It’s heartening to see the fire still burns for people like Jessica and Aaron at a tougher time to feel committed to journalism.

I hope the profession manages to keep them and others like them, such as 33-year-old Michigan native Terry Parris, Jr. and 37-year-old photographer John Clanton of Tulsa World

Terry Parris Jr.

Terry Parris Jr.

Parris, former editor of Ferndale Patch and now an editor at the Ustream news site in San Francisco, says this on Facebook about L’Affaire Allyson:

You don’t go into journalism for money and regular hours. She went in doomed.

Also, people leave this damn industry all the time. No one is gonna lose sleep over Sticky Valentines here taking a hike.

Also, her narrow view of journalism is strictly based on “newspapers.” The scope is larger than that now and it sounds like she wasn’t ready for it or wanted it or could grasp it.

Clanton, a multimedia producer in Oklahoma, reacts in a March 20 blog post titled Why I love the news. An excerpt:

It’s not about the money to me. It’s about discovery. I’m chasing down ideas, exploring the city, meeting new people and trying to connect readers to their lives.

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