A journalistic cri de coeur

On multiple occasions in recent days, I've spoken to young journalists about becoming a reporter. As I've reflected on my decision to change careers and enter journalism, it makes me smile. It says something about how awesome journalism is that I chose to do it at a significant cut in pay. In my mind, the fun of finding new topics to write about and craft a story more than makes up for the fact that I can't afford anything. I didn't go to school to become a journalist and I believe that schooling is in no way necessary for it. I look at it as a trade more than a profession. And I'm very happy to be part of this trade.

Many of the reporters I follow have been tweeting links to a new tumblr called We Are Journalists. The site's purpose is explained: We are journalists. We are proud of what we do. We are tired of bad press about the press. We are trying to be "team players." We are terrified of more layoffs and paycuts. We would like to produce quality work without 'obamasux99' posting some non-sequitur rant at the end of it. We complain because we want things to be better. We would like some respect, plz. We are journalists.

And you have various journalists post their stories. Some of them are rather earnest. The top one right now, for instance, is from a college media adviser who begins "I taught young people that reporting is a noble profession." It ends "You bet your ass I am a journalist." This managing editor had a rather dramatic response to someone who suggested that the newspaper profession was in trouble.

Some might be described as overwrought (e.g. "I collected divorces and heart attacks like trophies. I sat at a desk decorated with cigarette ash in a room that smelled like fear. ... My scoops were plump and sexy like Marilyn Monroe and lasted hours, not seconds."). Well then!

I rather liked this one from a community newspaper editor. And these, from a database investigative reporter and copy editor/page designer/online editor, did a great job of describing how frustrating it can be to work at a newspaper these days (without sounding whiny).

But this being GetReligion, you know where this is going. I have to say that I love the religion-themed posts. Take this one:

I write about people. I write about God. I write about people who do and do not believe in God. I once ate curry while barefoot, seated on the floor of a Sikh Temple, after witnessing three straight hours of prayer. I’ve covered my head out of respect. I’ve mingled with Wiccans at a wand making party, watched injured veterans light a menorah and shook the hands of countless pastors. I can’t count how many times interview subjects have asked me, “What do you believe in?” or “Where do you attend church?” I tell them, “For the job, it isn’t relevant. I write about it all.” I fear my beat is getting phased out of newspapers. I fear my other stories will continue to get more hits. I want to tell stories about the broken and how they heal, about the ways in which religion fuels the human spirit. But faith, like journalism, seems to attract less interest these days. My sincere belief that this is only temporarily keeps me writing.

I am a newspaper reporter with a religion beat.

Yeah! Go team! Makes you want to fight for another day.

There's another interesting religion angle in these posts, though, and at least one contributor went ahead and named what was going on. Here's the beginning of a reporter's post:

Here’s a fact: I’m not a very religious man. But if I had to sift through the events of my life to find anything resembling a religion, it’d sound like journalism. Go figure. But if I do find myself answering to some crusty old editor in the sky, I’d valiantly argue there was no way I was made to do anything but tell stories. Any other way would have been sacrilegious, I’d yell.

I'm not sure what to make of this tendency among some journalists -- you'll recall New York Times editor Jill Abramson saying that the Times substituted for religion in her house growing up -- but it is intriguing. I wonder if there is some link between journalists viewing the pieties of some media as equivalent to holy writ and the attendant decline of the newspaper industry. When people use religious language to describe their trade, it indicates they take a very high view of the office.

So I'd probably prefer that journalists pound the pavement rather than their chests. But the site is an interesting window, for good and for ill, into a beleaguered line of work.

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