Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Bitten and Smitten: Why Journalism Is Like Falling For The Wrong Person

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 24, 2009

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I was at an event this evening and I met a journalist who was new to the profession. She had been in IT and now was working for a San Francisco newspaper. She asked if I had any words of advice for a new journalist.

I said welcome. But be careful it doesn't get under your skin because if it does, it will become a problem. It'll be very difficult to leave.

In many ways,  being bitten by journalism is similar to being smitten. It's similar to falling for the wrong person.

- You know that there is no way the relationship can work out (because currently there is no future in paying journalism) but you can't resist going back, trying to make the relationship work.

- You curse and threaten to break up but then late at night you keep thinking about that person, and romanticising the great times, forgetting about the bad times. You end up calling (posting stories) late at night (I often file after midnight).

- Your friends tell you to let go, to see someone else, that the relationship was bad for you, it was dragging you down, you were losing sleep and losing money. You need to move on. But where? Who? (Who will understand you the same way that journalism does?)

- When it's good it's great (front page stories, accolades, scoops). When it's bad it's dramatic, horrible, emotionally draining (constant layoffs, not knowing if you have a job the next week).

- Every time you see that person, your heart skips, adrenaline rushes in, you feel euphoric (writing a great news story, meeting those deadlines).

- After each encounter you look forward to the next one, you feel complete, alert yet relaxed. (After every deadline, after filing that news story, publishing that original you-can-only-get-here story.)

- When they aren't around you can't help thinking about them, fantasising conversations and situations. (You can't help thinking about news angles, writing stories in your head, coming up with great, original angles.)

- When they aren't around you keep replaying conversations, thinking about what you should have said. (In your head you rewrite headlines and news angles on stories you've already written.)

- You can't wait to get back to see them, to get back to that keyboard, to use your fingers, to caress into being that next encounter, (that next news story.)

- But they drive you crazy, they don't realize how much you sacrifice for them, how much you do for them, you are frustrated how they take you for granted (how much work goes into a news story, how much of you is in that story).

- You can't trust them, you know they'll run off with someone else if they feel like it (your editors will take free content if they can get it, if someone wants to work for free, great).

- You threaten to leave because you realize its too much of a one-way street, they will never appreciate you (you can't make a living in journalism, you know you will never be paid what your work is worth.)

- There's a lot of shouting, gnashing of teeth, group relationship counseling (journalists getting together to commiserate and swap horrible stories about what's going on in their profession).

- You can't live with them and you can't live without them. (You could leave journalism but you know you can't.)

- It's a messed up relationship, full of passion and no future. But isn't that always the best kind? The most memorable?

- - -

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti (right) was smitten by Jane Burden, the wife of fellow Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painter William Morris.

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