The whole time I was in college studying journalism, there was a part of me wondering if I was really doing the right thing. I was working my butt off every day, but still barely scraping by financially. Everywhere I turned, people spoke of a dying industry, and even the fiercely optimistic ones didn’t seem to have any real solutions. None of that has really changed, I suppose.
Originally, I only got into journalism because I was transferring to a new high school, and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to shed my reputation as a band nerd. Somehow, Gwen 2004 thought being a newspaper nerd would make me way cooler.
For better or worse, it caught on enough that I decided to move across the country to go to school for it. I supplemented my writing skills with photography, video and web design, and four long years later, had a degree. After a summer spent frantically searching for my dream job any job, I took the first one that was offered to me.
It sounded innocent enough, and I thought at the very least I could strengthen my design and coding skills, while learning about the web from a non-journalism viewpoint. Plus, I was assured that the 30 hr/wk position would be full-time before long, with benefits following soon after. The promise of earning a steady income was more appealing than freelancing or holding out for a staff writer or web editor position. At the time.
A few months later, when I found myself being instructed to make up quotes for a press release rather than bother our client, I realized I wasn’t happy. Besides injuring my journalistic pride (which I didn’t even realize I had until that moment), it just added to a general sense of guilt that had been building since I started working there. I am helping add useless crap to the Internet, for the sake of better search rankings for my clients—some of whom own several “niche” businesses and don’t really care about any of them. As someone who deeply believes in the good that the web can do, it seriously sucked to become acquainted with the other side of it.
When the stability that drew me to the job proved to be empty promises, I began looking for other options. I started doing some freelance reporting, and almost instantly felt better about my life. Even though it was pretty fluffy stuff, writing about boy scouts and innovative doctors, I felt like I was contributing something valuable to the world again.
Web marketing certainly has its value, don’t get me wrong. Every website needs it to some degree (to avoid being lost in the abyss of crap that I make my living contributing to). I just can’t feel good about marketing a company that I can’t get behind, when I don’t know anything about it and am told that doesn’t matter.
I’m not quitting my job. At least, not yet. I am, however, going to start freelancing as much as possible, to offset the bad journo karma I accumulate at the marketing job. Meanwhile, the validation that I found in writing my first few stories since graduation feels good enough that I can continue my search for something better. Even if journalism can’t totally pay the bills right now, at least I can feel confident that I made the right choice for myself.