The mistress journalism: Part lovely, part abuse

Awhile back when I was scanning the web I came across a blog by reporter Meranda Watling. The blog, Meranda Writes, caught my eye because I used to know someone with the same last name from her hometown. Past that I liked its design and her writing style.

Curious by nature. Journalist by trade,” her catch phrase read.

I later read that Meranda left newspapers and accepted a position elsewhere. She didn’t leave journalism, as she made a point of saying in one blog entry, but it was a departure from daily newspapers.

I read her entry with great interest as she recounted the reasons for wanting a career change. It basically added up to burnout, caused by a variety of factors including being underpaid, perhaps under appreciated and quite possibly under challenged.

She stayed because of pride, she said, pride of some great stories and series. She recounted a crazy side of the business and our dedication to it that others outside of this career simply don’t understand.

Meranda claims she left when she was just stressed out, before true burn-out set in. At one point, though, she described it as similar to an abusive relationship in how it felt. She knew it wasn’t good for her, but she kept coming back because it’s what she knew, and because there was a love there before.

She worked at a Gannett newspaper, in another state but owned by the same corporation as the Star. Like the rest of us she weathered the furloughs and the effects on our budgets that they caused.

But that’s not really why I paid so much attention to what she wrote. I can relate, much more than I like. Even to the part of being in an abusive relationship.

I’ve gone way past the stress point. For a good point of my career my job was basically my mistress, one I nurtured more than anything in my life. When I started having that burn out feeling I tried to leave, tried to run like hell. But I didn’t get far.

Like Meranda said, it’s what I know.

The general public doesn’t really get it. People, including readers, don’t get the unpredictability of what we do. The days where we have a ton of work and others where we have to beg and call to get anything. The mornings that once in awhile start hours too early and evenings that – if breaking news happens – could go on to the next morning.

But it goes beyond that. We are expected to know a little about everything. We don’t get to just shut down, to work slower, if we have a bad day. There’s news happening and we are expected to get that news.

Appreciation is brief. Often it comes in phone calls from people who are boosted by our coverage of their events, or because we gave their issue some press. It can remain praise or turn to scorn within days.

That scorn can last much longer. Misspell a name today and someone will bring it up months from now. Get a fact wrong and it will come back to haunt you for years, whether or not you were the cause of the incorrect information.

Pretty dysfunctional at times. But I can’t go. Others can’t go.

It is a relationship. One built on trust and honor. On dedication.

There is a love built. A love of gathering the information. Of often being the first to know it. And a respect that we are often the guardians of that information, helping to decide what gets distributed, what the public wants or needs to know.

Reporters are cast away as demons, equal to how people consider politicians and lawyers. But at the same time people love spilling their guts to us. They’ll tell us things way past what we ask at times. They would probably tell us their deepest secrets if we just had time to sit long enough.

This is powerful stuff. I can’t lie and say it isn’t. It’s not necessarily power like an elected official would have. Not power like that. But still some sort of power. A power that can write wrongs and educate people. A power that we cherish.

Love it? Sometimes. When a day goes good. Other times it’s a burden, granted. It can be an abusive relationship, one that always wants us to give and give and give to it despite how the rest of our day may be going. The ones of us who can do well are the ones who just say screw it and let it suck us in.

In other words, it’s the ones of us who are willing victims.

I can’t blame Meranda for heading to another career. I can’t lie and say I foresee myself always staying in newspaper journalism. It is a love, but it is one that also has left me with a share of scars. With some distaste that makes me think it’s time for a new love in my life.

To Meranda, and the rest who have headed off to other career fields, I wish you the best of luck. To the rest of us still here, God bless. Hang in there.

Stay curious. But also, stay human. Remember the job isn’t everything, no matter how much it sucks us in.

At the end of the day that’s what we are, human. And not even journalism can give us the power to be Superman all day long.


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