Monday, March 23, 2009

On Being a Journalist

I consider myself to be a journalist.

By this I mean that I have a habit of writing something on a regular, almost daily basis. Keeping a journal is something many people do, yet they don't necessarily consider themselves to be journalists. In the strictest sense , the term 'journalist' describes someone who writes a journal, but the definition has been narrowed to describe someone who writes for--and is, therefore employed by--a printed publication, like a newspaper or a magazine.

Everyone knows that the digital age has blurred the boundaries between the professional 'journalist' and the 'e-writer' or blogger, but with increasing rapacity, the professional writer is being overtaken and devoured by hordes of repressed journalists eager for access to the world of publication --even if those words never get printed on paper.

This change is more than a redefinition of the term 'journalist'; it is the opening of the inner temple and casting out of the personality cult that professional journalism has become. With the green curtain pulled aside, we habitual writers can push the little man aside and fiddle with the controls ourselves.

Of course this situation is decried and derided by the priesthood. It is supposedly a sad day every time another newspaper goes broke or just online, but I suppose it was a sad day when another buggy whip or punch card or pda maker went belly up in the past. We lament the loss of the past but neglect to appreciate the gain in the present.

Well I, for one, have gained something. I can be--I am--a journalist. In high school, I was co-editor of the newspaper and consequently drew up plans to become a newspaper journalist. Fortunately, sometimes the best laid plans never come to pass.

I believe that I am a writer today explicitly because I did not pursue a career as a newspaper journalist. Now, I will not claim that I did not fulfill this ambition because I was unable to break into the secret society of print journalists. What I will say is that it was obvious to me immediately that my ambition was going to be a serious challenge--as in, not what but who you know--to get a job as a serious journalist.

In addition, the pay and working environment were--as in low and lousy--as undesirable as the serious jobs were unattainable. I soon learned that I could--and, of course, did--make a lot more as a waiter than I would have made working my way up to reporter by writing 'classifieds' and 'obits'. Curiously, the former job, despite the fact that it made money, was never considered serious by my Mother, but the latter job would have been acceptable even had I been perpetually broke. Oh wait, I was anyway...

Well, in the end, my skills as a waiter were indeed more lucrative than my lead and copy skills would be if I'd had a mind to try and live off them. But I don't, thank goodness. I have my 'real' jobs for that.

Fortunately, my desire to write is undiminished as the opportunity to write opens up before me. That opportunity, it seems, has been exponentially increased thanks to the very revolution that has left so many former journalists looking for work as waiters.

Suffice it to say, I rather be a waiter becoming a journalist than the other way round.

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