Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some random thoughts about a most noble, and vanishing profession

I recently stumbled across this piece I wrote for another website where I was a featured blogger, eons ago. i wrote it the night Daniel Pearl was murdered

I am terribly saddened when I see good if not great journalists not being able to get a job at a paper, or magazine. I am saddened when papers are closing right and left because no one is reading them, There was a buzz a while back that e readers like the Amazon Kindle would destroy newspapers, but that isn't the case.

I don't have an actual degree in journalism, I worked my way up and absorbed everything. Yet I love writing, and recently, for the first time in almost a Score, couldn't write during my last depression. If I cannot write, I want to die.

My heart breaks for those journalists who want to write, but cannot.


As I write this, two thoughts are going through my head, in contrast to each other. One is the news that an American reporter has been murdered in Pakistan. The other one is a comment made by a friend of mine, a certain Mr. Alexander of New York, about how much of a narcissist you have to be to appear on a reality TV show.

Without stealing Mr. Alexander’s thunder, I wonder what kind of narcissist you have to be to be a journalist, a reporter, a writer, or an editor in the first place. And what kind of amazing person they are to do what they do.

Narcissus, according to Greek myth, was a young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and drowned. In today’s fast, multitasked society, it could be someone who not only loves the way they look, but who capitalizes on it, perhaps becoming an actor or actress, or something else to go into the limelight – because people with this personality disorder have to be the center of attention. Hence, we have a perfect personality flaw custom made for the genre of reality TV. Who else would love to have a camera in their face 24/7 but someone in love with themselves who feels the whole world should bask in the glory of their visage? (Will on Big Brother 2 is a perfect example.)

Now to be a person who writes for a living, whether it is a journalist, a fiction writer, a magazine or radio/television reporter, or an editor – there may also be a slight bit of this involved as well, but it is a benevolent thing. I for one, can tell you even though I submit an average of four articles a week for this site, I have not been paid one cent for them. I have had other things published on the net – and again, nothing. Why do I give up 20-25 hours a week of my valuable time to this medium, to this editor who cannot pay me? Well, even if Mr. David Bloomberg paid me, I wouldn’t take the money. For you see, he gives me something more valuable than money. He gives me a byline. I look at the article and I see something that I have toiled on, something I may be proud of, with my name underneath. And I know I have done that. It is like a parent who has just gotten a comment on how well-behaved their toddler is. It’s a comment that means the world to the recipient, to know that something they believed in has influenced someone else.

Like the MasterCard commercial: “Priceless.”

Those who know me know how much writing is my raison d’ĂȘtre. At this stage in my life I know that statistically I am more likely to be murdered by a terrorist than to find a husband – at least according to a well publicized survey from the mid 80s. I know I cannot have a child. So I am channeling my energy, as well as my libido, into writing, spending four or five hours a night after work indulging in this passion. Emily Dickinson once said, “I write for myself and others.” I agree. Most of what I have written has not been seen by another living human being. But the articles I publish, both here and on other sites, if one reader likes what I have written, that makes it all worthwhile. To me, that is priceless.

Journalism has been getting a bad rap lately, as have writers. In very recent times it was alleged that Stephen Ambrose, U.S. historian had plagiarized some of his books. According to a story in Reuters, “The New York Times said on Thursday it had cut ties with a freelance writer for falsifying an article about an adolescent West African slave -- the latest in a series of ethical lapses by U.S. journalists.”

Journalism use to be a glamorous career. Hemingway was a journalist. Suffregettes were journalists. Woodward and Bernstein made journalism an interesting and desirable career, flooding universities with would-be students. Everyone wanted to break the next Watergate story. All of a sudden, reporting had gone from smoke-filled back rooms where dipsomaniac reporters would wait for a story to something that could potentially bring down a man with an office as high as the President of the United States.

Seeing a reporter like Katie Couric get a 65 million dollar contract makes the career more alluring. Journalists like Tom Wolfe get to hob nob with the rich and famous. Yes some do. Most don’t. Most don’t make a lot of money. According to Anna Quinlen, a journalist who I personally set up as my idol, “median salary of a reporter in this country is about 30,000.” (Newsweek, Feb. 18, 2002).

So if the pay stinks, why do it?

Continue reading article here


Andy Alt said...

On some radio show the other day, probably on NPR, a guy said in some cases readership was up, but the real problem is advertisers using the Internet, and it's much cheaper ad space, to get their important messages out about how to take people's money for poorly-made goods and substandard services.

That's not an exact quote by the way.

Gianna said...

most writers never even get read...we write because it's our art form. period.

the one's that get paid are just lucky and certainly not always the best.

Anthony said...

When I saw the title I thought, My God, Asian massage parlors are going out of business!

But then I realized what was going on. Seriously, I like my newspaper and cherish the thump on my doorstep every morning at 4:30. It's comforting, in a way.

Sadly, the youth of America doesn't appreciate the intimacy of newsprint and I fear it's a matter of another decade before the thump is replaced by a ding of Windows notification.

susan said...

@Andy, I got it and understand it. But boy, do I hate pop ups! (I made sure i checked them off so they don't pop up!).

@Gianna, you are right, but just once, just once I would give my left arm to have a week of 1000 hits. I think a lot of good writers are like Van Gogh- death is a positive career move.

I would give the right arm, but I need it to open the tuna.

@Anthony, you are so right. The thump of the Sunday paper especially. Newspapers will go the way of microfiche, and the card catalog. Sad.

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