behind the scenes

A Journalist's Dream

5:13:00 PM

The thing about working in news, regardless of whether it's print or broadcast, is that in the audience's eyes, you're never really off. Viewers and readers have come to expect a CNN-like atmosphere in all things. They don't care if your outlet is a smaller market with a small staff and budget. They want their news when they want it, and if you can't comply with their wishes, they'll just go somewhere else.

So we've all given in. What other choice did we have? If you don't have viewers or readers, you don't have a job. But this surrender to all news all the time doesn't come without consequences. Of course there's the constant fight to be first without regard to being right (just look at the recent Newtown, CT, tragedy), but I'm talking more about the affects on journalists.


Sometimes the pressures of this business are intense. We're expected to be on our game 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We're not supposed to take vacations or ever turn off our phones. And for the most part, we're never thanked for our dedication. Not that we really expect it. For most of us, it's not about the fame or fortune - it's about the news and getting it out there and maybe making a difference in the process.

But sometimes the pursuit of journalism ends in a burn out.

This week a coworker shared an article with me called Why I Left News. The title is pretty straight-forward: a former print reporter explains why she got out of the business. It basically boils down to being over-worked, underpaid and under-appreciated. And while the article is primarily about print, the issues the author discusses can also be felt in broadcast.

We get tired, but we don't stop. We literally work ourselves sick sometimes.

Not all of us give into the overwhelming nature of the beast and leave the business, but I feel like I speak for most of us when I say we wish we could hide sometimes.

For me, it's from my phone. I never turn it off. I can't unless I'm on vacation. Everyone at the station has access to me all the time. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten work-related phone calls during dinner or while on a date.

This job can take over your entire world if you let it. But you don't have to let news consume you. Sure, I find myself updating stories or monitoring our social media sites from home occasionally, but I'm not constantly plugged into my station. In fact, I don't watch the news at all when I'm off.

I think some of the most successful and happiest journalists I know are not tied to their desks/cameras. They're not running to their stations every time some piece of breaking news happens. They're out there living their lives and leaving the news at the station.

I think that's the key to being happy in this business -- not giving your entire life to it. You can't let news define who you are as a person. You need to have connections outside of your station. You should have times when your thoughts are nowhere near work.

But if you are serious about making this your career, you've got to understand its needs. There will be times when you lose your weekend; your work days will almost never fall between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.; and you'll be expected to do more than college prepared you for. But as long as when you go home you're at home both in body and in mind, you should be fine.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing, even love for your career.

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4 comments

  1. As an inspiring journalist, I really appreciate your current post. I enjoy your style of writing and how you share comments about your experiences as a journalist. It gives young journalist a chance to see what they are getting themselves into after college and it also gives regular citizens a glimpse of how things really are behind the camera and lights. Again, I appreciate your posts and please keep up the good work!

    ---D'Atra Montgomery

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    1. I'm glad that my posts are helpful for you. Hopefully they're not scaring you away from the field. It truly is fun and rewarding.

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  2. Ashton, I apologize. I haven't been ignoring you. The truth is that your blog has not been appearing in my reader stream and I never even saw the last two posts.

    Therefore, I will address the previous post and this one. I'm sure I told you about the drunk who phoned me every night at 11:31 as soon as I put the late newscast to bed. It was at the height of the Watergate scandal and the drunk called to defend his favorite president, Richard Nixon. Night after night, month after month the drunk set the record straight, telling me that Nixon was doing a great job and that the men surrounding him were to blame for all the dirty tricks. He would drone on and on as long as I'd allow it. I had to listen to him with one ear and the police and fire scanners with the other ear to avoid missing breaking news.

    Early in my career I produced the 11pm and read sign-off news copy at 1am after the Tonight Show ended. The station went to bed for the night and I was usually tired and eager to do the same; but if the scanners suddenly came alive sending first responders to a major accident, fire, murder, etc., it was up to me to grab a camera, hop in a news wagon, drive to the scene, film it (yes, 16mm film!), bring the film back to the station, label it and drop it off to be "souped" for use on the early morning newscast. I also had to type a rough draft of the story based on what I had learned at the scene and leave it for the morning producer. Sometimes I was up half the night chasing down stories and I didn't get paid extra for doing so. It came with the job.

    I was happy to get out of news, but at the same time I found it jarring when I brought my news division work ethic with me to my new career as a producer of entertainment. It was a laid back atmosphere and for quite some time I felt like a fish out of water. I was making music videos, shooting interviews with rock stars, Playboy Playmates of the month and Hooters girls, directing actors and actresses in television commercials, etc. Deadlines were no longer measured in seconds but in days or weeks.

    I agree with you that, in order to survive long term in the news business and avoid burn-out, you need balance. You can't take the job home with you all the time. The very best anchors I worked with in my career were the ones who were most relaxed. They never took themselves or the job too seriously but, when the red tally light came on, they delivered. Those same people were the most fun outside the work environment, great to know as friends, great fun at parties, etc.

    Okay, I resubbed to your blog and I hope that fixes the problem. I sincerely hope I don't miss any more of your posts. If I do you know where to find me. Come over and tug my sleeve. :)

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    1. I know a lot of people who are my age-ish that have already burned out. Granted, most of them are in much bigger markets than I am so the demands are higher. One of my closest friends told me the other day that news just wasn't what she'd fell in love with anymore. I thought that was sad, but I'm glad that she's not just sticking with something that doesn't make her happy anymore.

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