Wednesday, May 25, 2016
I’ve been thinking about getting rid of these magazines and newspaper clippings for some time: the kids need a place to put their shoes. I’ve been reluctant, though. For many years, I looked upon them as a monument to the lessons I learned in the media; lessons I might one day share with my kids. A missive by an old colleague or someone better described as a contemporary, Alex Kidman, convinced me otherwise. Plus, Facebook forcibly made me relive the moment I walked away from the media three years ago today.
The question I get asked most frequently is why I chose a career in the media over a career in law. Usually, I tell people it paid better than an entry-level legal position (which it did). However, twenty years of hindsight have brought me to a very different conclusion; one that I did not expect to reach.
Two years into an arts law degree, I had a head full of theory but no way to use it. I’d held a couple of junior clerk positions, but my time was almost entirely spent searching for documents and photocopying them in triplicate for no other reason than being told to. It was a sterile and hopelessly mundane existence.
My entry into journalism was the opposite experience. Answering a call for people who can play Japanese videogames and who can write, I was thrust into a world of alternative views and diverse lifestyles; a place where all the things that made me weird and different were not only taken seriously, but paid for.
People talk about university as a place that opens your mind to the world, but I’d tend to think it was too slow for me. In fact, now that I’m more aware of how I learn, I know it was. I gravitated towards the media because I was allowed to put my skills to use, and no one ever tried to dumb things down for me or hold me back. There were an incomprehensible number of things to make sense of – sub-editing, design, marketing, industry politics, business negotiation, even a bit of law – I was thrown into the deep end and I thrived. I learned quickly what it means to wear one’s mistakes, and how a careless comment or printing error could be rationalised into a person losing their job. By all accounts, I did well.
Before long, I had a pigeonhole above my media lecturer’s at a major metropolitan newspaper. She made no secret of her contempt for me when she learned about it, which made it easy for me to dismiss her as being motivated by pride. Sometimes I wish she’d tried harder, though I have no idea what that would’ve amounted to.
Journalism is dead, you see, at least in the media we now consume. A mentor once told me ‘if it sounds like an indulgence, it’s probably a bad idea’. These are words I still live by and, unfortunately, it’s the way I see most media these days: indulgent.
But the discipline that goes into crafting a story – taking readers on a journey, opening their minds, persuading them – there is still a hunger for it. Just elsewhere.
And if there are any lessons for my kids to learn from all this, it’s to recognise when you’re being held back and how to not accept no for an answer.
I don’t need hundreds of old magazines and newspaper clippings for that.