Am I still a journalist?
I don’t know if I can, or indeed want to, work under these conditions
A few weeks ago, the author and former New York Times reporter, Jamal Jordan, tweeted about how journalism schools need to teach a module on lay-offs for journalists.
In what turned out to be ominous foreshadowing, yesterday HuffPost UK’s editor-in-chief announced that the news desk was closing and journalists were being made redundant. As someone who went freelance after losing a job in the media, I know how painful it is to go through redundancy, but even worse, how probable it is, too. Ever since it happened to me, I tell every journalist I know that it’s not a matter of if but when you lose your job in the media industry. What does it say about the media industry that I feel more secure in self-employment than I did in a staff job?
As much as going freelance has been a boon for my career, the time I spend on what I call “traditional journalism” (reporting and writing features for mags and rags) has been an exercise in screaming into the void. My pitches go unanswered. Not because I don’t know how to pitch or who to send them to, but because the pitching system is broken. On top of paltry rates, I pay the emotional tax of chasing late invoices.
All this has left me thinking, can I – or indeed do I even want to be – a journalist working under these conditions?
I want to be able to say I stay in journalism because I believe in the power of the fourth estate. And that I know that the business model will eventually work itself out because democracy will always need journalism. It’s earnest and it’s all true, but I also can’t in good faith pretend that’s the only reason. If I’m really honest with myself, I rattle around in this broken industry because I like being able to call myself a journalist. It’s a huge part of my identity – it’s what makes me, me.
In a land and time far, far away, I used to go to parties and tell people that I was a music journalist. My bum clenches with embarrassment at how cool I used to think I was. But back then I didn’t know where my work ended and I began. To a large extent, that’s still the case, but the difference now is that I’m aware of how complicated – and toxic – my relationship is with my work. I’m codependent on my job title.
Someone asked me recently if the solution is just to stop referring to myself as a journalist and say that I’m a writer instead. Maybe it is that simple. But if that’s the answer, then why can’t I just do it?