For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a journalist
February 15, 2011 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Can an introvert be a journalist? If so... how?

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a journalist. Throughout university I was certain that that was what I would do when I had graduated. I switched my degree so I could take classes in journalism and the media. I approached essays as if they were assignments. I took part in a failed attempt to launch an alternative student paper. I wrote a dissertation that I was confident I could get published.

But I graduated into a recession - couldn't even get work experience - and before long I had given up. I decided I was too introverted to be a journalist anyway. And so the dream faded away.

Then today, whilst avoiding work, I read this article by George Monbiot. It's his advice on pursuing a career in freelance journalism. Parts of it really resonated with me, particularly the bits about not wanting to specialise, thrifty living, and trying not to compromise your beliefs and become institutionalised. For the first time in years, the idea of being a journalist really appealed to me.

I say "idea", because there's a lot about the reality of it that I don't think I could handle. Firstly, I'm an INTJ/INTP-type personality, and I'm not sure I have the determination and confidence it takes. Secondly, I like that I've finally achieved some semblance of stability. I'm still relatively poor, but I'm comfortable with what I have. I've experienced not knowing how much money I'll have from one month to the next, and I hated it. Mr Monbiot is an excellent journalist, but I don't think he understands that some people actually like things to be predictable and mundane from time to time. Nevertheless, the line in his piece that alludes to Benjamin Franklin's "they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" really struck a nerve.

I touched on this subject with a previous question, and came away from it feeling that I'm more of a "work to live" kind of person. But I'm of the opinion that it's better to regret something you did than something you didn't, and I think I'm ready to give it another try. In recent months I've rediscovered my political side, and the thought that "if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem" won't leave me be. I'm overworked and underpaid, and I feel that in the current climate, I may as well be underpaid doing something I care about. Journalism may be changing rapidly, and becoming increasingly difficult to make a living from, but my fascination with it (and my appetite for knowledge and truth) never really went away.

In the intervening years, my confidence has grown considerably, to the point where my introversion is now less of a limiting factor. I've also picked up a lot of "transferable skills" in my current job. Nevertheless, I'm having a hard time reconciling my reluctance to sacrifice comfort with my desire to make something of myself. I'm also skeptical that I'd have the personal discipline and drive to really make it as a freelancer.

So, my tl;dr question is: how do I go about giving my ambition a second chance, without giving up all of my hard-earned stability and security?

posted by Acey to Work & Money (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Forget being an investigative journo or similar. Become an editor.
posted by Sijeka at 1:57 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mr Monbiot is an excellent journalist, but I don't think he understands that some people actually like things to be predictable and mundane from time to time.

Lots of guys and gals who became journalism legends years ago have no idea how bad it is for people entering the field today. Introversion isn't a problem -- the lack of career tracks is.

But if you want to do it from the heart, take it from a veteran: Make journalism a DIY thing where you make your own films or start your own blog instead of spending years trying to convince editors to write what you want to write, or investigate what you want to investigate.

Don't buy into crazy and pervasive Baby Boomer fantasies, the ones being peddled at J-schools, of becoming a 1975-style journalist or doing some plucky His Girl Friday/Morning Glory type thing. That's all going away really fast. But it's never been easier to produce your own documentary or publish your own stuff, even if it's hard to get paid for any of it.
posted by Victorvacendak at 2:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

meant to type: years trying to convince editors to let you write what you want to write.
posted by Victorvacendak at 2:09 PM on February 15, 2011

I am not a journo but know a young man who's managing to be a journalist in this world. He told me that whereas at one time a journalist expected to get the story and write it down, now he's often expected to also get still photos, audio and video, and be able to edit them himself. It will definitely help your prospects if you can offer these skills as well.
posted by zadcat at 3:27 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Despite what Victorvacendak says, I can assure you that no serious journalism school is peddling "Baby Boomer fantasies." They are all very much aware of the problems facing their industry. The lack of jobs is undoubtedly a serious issue, but if you want to pursue a career in journalism, you might consider becoming a copy editor. Skilled copy editors are still demand, at least more so than dime-a-dozen freelance writers. No, you won't get a byline or write your own stories, but you'll be helping out other writers and doing more than just making sure their i's are dotted and their t's are crossed. Copy editors also help track down sources, confirm facts, coordinate editorial packages and generally serve as the glue that keep most major periodicals together.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:33 PM on February 15, 2011

Imagine that you have to read everything you write, out loud, to an auditorium of random strangers. Afterward, they will tell you exactly what they thought of your work. They are also going to make hurtful assumptions about you.

Does that fill you with dread? Or excitement? Or neither? If it's dread, the writing end of journalism is going to be a rough go for you.
posted by purpleclover at 4:35 PM on February 15, 2011

Yeah, somewhere recently there was an article (Salon?) about the dinosaurs who teach in journalism schools (Northeastern?) and what they're teaching is criminal. The writers who are making a name for themselves as journalists today are starting out by writing their own blogs, and making them interesting enough so that a lot of readers flock to them. Starting out as a photographer or copy boy at a daily newspaper, and moving up to be Bob Woodward, is a fantasy of the past.

Even though I'm a talented writer, I decided not to go into journalism because I'm too introverted. I'd often try to get information from someone for a story, but would get bogged down too much in shyness and/or taking too long to figure out the right thing to say, and it showed. My father, on the other hand, who was a reporter for a major daily paper, could get lots of good information from people by using his extroverted charm; perhaps the question should be, can an introvert be a good journalist? Good luck.
posted by Melismata at 4:37 PM on February 15, 2011

Not a journalist, but studied it in school (even did a stint at a TV station before deciding it wasn't for me). I'm in social media, which, while not an equivalent field, is one where extroversion pays off hugely. I managed business units and 80+ person teams as an executive, and spoke in front of hundreds of people. I find that I had to work a little harder as an introvert, but it wasn't impossible. It just takes preparation - think through your questions, do your research, write down your talking points, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

I'm also a "work to live" person, and your comments about doing something you love (whilst perhaps being underpaid) really resonate with me. I'm a huge believer that if you follow your passions, other things will fall in line. For me, that meant breaking out of my shell more, finding the extra energy within me to walk into a room of 50 people who are looking for leadership when the chips are down and confidently provide answers, and keeping my cool under pressure.

I second zadcat. Journalism is different, but not impossible to break into. Note that one advantage for introverts is that we tend to listen first - your interviewees will really appreciate that you set your ego aside to really hear their story.
posted by hampanda at 5:17 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a journalist, and I'm very shy and introverted. But I'm also aggressive and questioning, so that helps a lot. I work from home, and that has advantages in this regard. (I'm glad to finally talk to someone during the day and don't have draining newsroom antics/drama around.)

I agree with hampanda -- if you know your stuff, you can ask the questions and get the info with aplomb. It also helps to know that people generally like being regarded as in-the-know and like being asked about things they are involved in.

I absolutely agree that you should learn multimedia skills. And just start producing stuff. A great area for an introvert is computer-assisted reporting, and this is a great basis for investigative stuff. CAR combined with multimedia skills is in demand, trust me, at least here in D.C.

You could join the Online News Association or Investigative Reporters and Editors as an associate member and learn a lot. (ONA is in the UK; not sure about IRE, but there's got to be an equivalent. IRE in particular has incredible resources.)

I love my job every day. I third zadcat. If I, a middle-aged wallflower, can break in, you certainly can!

Feel free to MeMail.
posted by jgirl at 7:00 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your replies, they are all greatly appreciated. I'm already a bit of an amateur photographer and my tech skills are workable, so I think at this stage it's a question of finding a topic I can sink my teeth into and giving it another go. New emerging fields such as 'data journalism' really appeal to my introverted nature, so there's still avenues to explore. In the meantime, I think the next step is finding a job that affords me more time to pursue these interests.

Whether I'll ever get paid to do it is another question, but perhaps I should first get comfortable with the idea of being a 'citizen journalist' for the time being.

Thanks again!
posted by Acey at 12:41 AM on February 16, 2011

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