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Advice to young journalists: which do we listen to?

There was an article recently by Felix Salmon called “To all the young journalists asking for advice…,” which was giving advice to young journalists. The gist was, “Don’t be a journalist.”

Gee, what helpful advice from a cynical, middle-aged man, who left his job at Reuters for an internet startup that I had never heard of before this article went viral on Twitter.

As a young journalist myself, it’s not particularly useful to be told I should be something other than what I want to be. Especially since I’ve spent my entire undergraduate career focusing on journalism. Sure, I have my other areas of study, but why should I try to go into a different profession that I don’t like nearly as much as I love journalism?

The article states, “I … think that some of today’s fast-growing digital companies are going to become the media behemoths of tomorrow, making their owners extremely rich in the process. But that doesn’t mean that life is good for journalists. In fact, life is not good for journalists. And while a couple of years ago I harbored hopes that things might improve, those hopes have now pretty much evaporated. Things are not only bad; they’re going to get worse.”

This is what I hear from everyone who tells me I should get out of journalism. Of course, I know it’s bad. I know that I’m going to bounce around from publication to publication. It’s not a steady profession, but if we — young journalists — don’t know the risks, we wouldn’t get into the so-called “mess” that is journalism. There’s instability in the move from print to digital because a lot of startup publications have a higher chance of folding, such as Aerys Sports — a sports web publication I wrote for that only lasted two years. There’s also the fact that a lot of print publications can fold at any time because they can’t fully make the transition to digital or their readership can’t be sustained due to the instantaneous nature of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, such as the San Francisco Guardian. And some web publications, such as BuzzFeed, can rely on animated GIFs of cats to draw readers in, as opposed to hardcore reporting that traditional print publications use.

There’s going to be periods of time where I’m going to support myself with a secondary job, and I’m okay with that! It’s part of my plan. And that’s the thing; I have backup plans for when there are moments when I can’t support myself on journalism alone. The pay isn’t enough for a single journalist to live in a big city to support themselves. I’ve checked — the average journalist makes about $30,000 a year. With Bay Area rent taking up at least $12-14k of that, and then utilities and whatnot, it’s going to be stretching that paycheck for years to come. And when you factor student loan payments into that? Eeesh.

I think that’s the part that gets tedious and condescending when people tell young journalists to get out of journalism — that we’re not smart enough to figure out backup plans or just figure out a plan in general. I know of journalists my age who are still living with their parents to save their paychecks in order to move out, young journalists who try to move to a town where the cost of living is lower, young journalists who freelance while maintaining a full-time job to make ends meet. It’s a reality that is faced, and if there’s a love for journalism, then people go for it. Those who want to find a better salary go into a profession where they can do just that.

Every job has its risks, and there’s no job that’s going to be set in stone forever. From what I understood in my classes for my economics minor, there’s a volatility in the market, but markets can naturally correct itself when the supply curve hits the demand curve, even after the curves move.

Economics aside, the point is that stuff happens. But through some sort of law of averages, it balances out. While the outlook for journalism looks bleak, there’s still worth in the medium because, hey, someone has to report the news somehow. The market for jobs is more competitive because there are fewer reporting positions open. There are less chances to be a full-time journalist because the number of publications are dwindling — the Oakland Tribune is basically just a copy of the San Jose Mercury News now. It’s an ever-changing market, and I think that if a person wants to pursue their career in journalism or media, they should pursue it because they’re more than likely aware of the nuances.

“I’m the happy recipient of a combination of luck and privilege,” Salmon states. That’s an outdated mindset, I think. Journalism these days is about the hustle for the job. It’s about putting yourself out there and making yourself known and working to get the job. Like I said, the market is more competitive. So young journalists like myself have to work harder and never rest.

But, reality check, a lot of young journalists know the risks they’re entering when they sign up for this gosh-darn profession. It’s a thankless one, but often something that needs to be done. The same with teaching and medicine and engineering and what have you.

So here’s the most important advice that I received from my thesis TA: take the advice that works for you, and discard the rest that doesn’t work for you.