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Don’t go into journalism

Dear curious, ambitious journalism student,

Do you want to speak truth to power? Do you want to afflict the comfortable? Do you want to rake muck? Then here’s my best advice: Don’t go into journalism.

Or, if you feel so called, do journalism other than the strictly impartial sort practiced by today’s mainstream press.

For sure, there are good reasons to be a journalist. It’s a noble job and you’ll meet fascinating people. Before I crossed over to marketing, I spent a year reporting the news for a small-town newspaper, and it was an enriching experience.

But recently I realized something important. As a non-journalist, I can say and publish almost anything I want without fear of it costing me my job. At a mainstream newspaper or broadcast news program, exercising my vocal chords would get me fired.

Consider the recent examples of journalists who lost their jobs after expressing support for Occupy Wall Street.

These media professionals ran afoul of ethical guidelines, as well as common sense. They should have known Occupy Wall Street was a hot potato that their news brands didn’t want their staffs touching.

Meanwhile, I’m free to share photos, videos and opinionated blog posts about Occupy Wall Street—an amazing story unfolding in my back yard!—without fear of crossing any ethical line. If I were in my old newspaper job, I would have to muzzle myself.

Also, thanks to the Internet, you and I no longer need access to an expensive printing press or broadcast antenna to be heard.

I believe objective journalism is possible. It’s just requires you, as a writer, to make a terrible personal compromise that fights against your need for self-expression. It requires you to build walls between yourself and potential conflicts—including, almost always, politics. Journalists force themselves to be perpetual outsiders in the world of government, activism and social change. Journalism is a career unfit for people who want to steer our government in a direction it isn’t already heading.

Which of course, you want to do.

Go write for someone unafraid to pick a side. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a gig doing journalism for opinion media. Rolling Stone. Mother Jones. Hell, work for Andrew Breitbart if you think it would be fun. Or just start a blog. Do your research. Check your facts. Then go write stuff that hits people like a kick in the teeth.

If you go work for The New York Times or NPR, you forfeit that right. Ask yourself, is it worth it?

* * * *

Anybody want to defend the state of journalism as it is now? Let’s hear it! You can post a comment below or email me (anonymity assured) at breakingcopy@breakingcopy.com.

Photo: Members of the media swarm an Occupy Wall Street march, October 21, 2011.

Related: All Breaking Copy posts about Occupy Wall Street.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Copywriting, News & Journalism, Politics


  1. Paul Randolph says:

    They were fired because they revealed their owners’ true status as progressive ideologues.

    If the Times and NPR were honest, they would state upfront that they are little more than pimps for the big government-slash-Democrat agenda.

    Revealing their true affiliation was the crime.

  2. Jim McClellan says:

    Reporters should not be advocates for the same reasons that referees shouldn’t be players. The problem is that a generation of reporters was trained to believe that their mission was to bring about social and economic justice. “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” began as stupid advice and became a mission statement for the press. This column is absolutely right — umpires don’t get a turn at bat. But good ones are essential for keeping the game honest for everyone who does.

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