Why I Never Became a Journalist

Watching Charles Gibson’s series of interviews with Sarah Palin makes glad I never became a journalist. I majored in journalism my sophomore year of college. As a result I ended up taking a bunch of journalism classes and wrote for the college paper. It seemed to be a good fit. I love current events and writing and journalism was a natural way to blend the two interests.

By the end the year, however, I realized a career in journalism wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the work that turned me off to that specific career. I enjoyed the fact finding and writing parts of the job. Instead it was the attitude of the professional journalists I came in contact with that turned me off the career choice.

Reporters for the local paper would occasionally come in and talk to our journalism classes. They were arrogant, self-centered, and seemed to revel in the fact they could control the current events and news coverage in the local area. (This was back in 1993-1994 school year when the Internet was mainly traversed by computer science geeks and had not yet wreaked havoc on newspaper subscriptions and the advertising that supports them.)

I came in contact with other journalists when we headed down to the local newspaper building with other journalism students to print our papers. Occasionally I’d overhear their conversations. It was more of the same. Conversations about politicians and political causes they hated and how they couldn’t wait for a mistake could be made so they could destroy lives and careers. Objectivity among the professional journalists, at least in the town I lived in, wasn’t taken very seriously.

After the school-year ended, I was offered the chance to be the college paper’s editor. I initially accepted the job, then, after a couple weeks of contemplation realized that even if I could write objective stories and not have an arrogant attitude, I’d have a hard time working and interacting on a daily basis with people who did act that way. I turned down the offer down and transferred to another school.

I should mention that not every journalist I knew then and know now is that way. Paula, the editor of the college paper that I worked for, was a fabulous journalist and worked hard to get to the bottom of every story. I can say the same thing of Ember and a few others I know. Sadly, the majority of those I knew and have come to know aren’t that way.

I guess having seen and know how a reporter should handle him or herself (and seen the few good ones that do handle themselves in a professional manner) is what made watching Gibson’s interview so painful to watch. No, it wasn’t his tough questions I had a problem with (though I’d like to see Obama, Biden, and McCain subjected to a similar grilling) but Gibson’s condescending attitude toward Palin. It reminded me of the way some college professors look down at their students. You know, the one that aren’t really there to teach but view their students as some insignificant bug that’s hardly worth their time. The same attitude oozed from Gibson through ever moment of that interview. He – not the viewers – was going to decide whether or not Palin passed or failed his series of pop quizzes.

It was unfortunate, really, because a good reporter shouldn’t make him or herself part of the news story. Sadly, almost every article I read about the interview spent as much time rating Gibson’s performance as well as Gov. Palin’s.

It’s too bad journalists have taken this route. They play a vital and important role in any free society. Sadly the way many journalists have conducted themselves over the last 50 years, have made a lot of people discount what they read and see from the press unless it’s from a partisan source that already subscribes to their world view.

I’m optimistic that things can change. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot more financial hemorrhaging, layoffs, and declining number of viewers and readers until real change begins to occur.