Every morning begins with me deleting all the emails that arrived during the night. It doesn't take long. Check a few dozen boxes, flush it all away, unread. Something very satisfying about that, like brushing fresh snow off your windshield. Rarely does anything catch my attention, because most communication is poorly-crafted spoodle that doesn't warrant a second glance.
But something called "Digiday Daily"—a bit redundant, yes?—dangled the intriguing headline, "‘Quit your f – king job’: How the pandemic has pushed journalists to exit the industry" by Sara Guiglione, and that seemed as good a way as any to dip a toe into the day's media pond. Maybe one of my adventurous former news colleagues will point out a path that could prove useful should I, like the Von Trapp Family, suddenly need to chirp my brief farewell, then make a quick exit out of Austria, through the Alps, toward some unimagined fresh start.
Maybe so. And good for him for taking dynamic action. Though that sailboat kinda stuck out for me. Who owns a sailboat on $45,000 a year? Perhaps it's a very small sailboat. But it's also a reminder that people sometimes have all sorts of invisible means of support, well-compensated spouses and such, and the Digiday Daily (try saying that three times, fast) story, for me, waves more unquestioned red flags than May Day in Beijing. Another of the four, count 'em, four journalists in the story recovered from his ordeal at the New York Times by spending a month in Hawaii. A third flees the Wall Street Journal after two years of servitude for the security of a tech start-up, which is like leaving your wife for a stripper you met last night. People do it, though I can't imagine encouraging anyone to consider that path without at least hinting at possible downsides.
I don't want to pick apart the story, which is competent enough, other than to point out the last sentence:
“The pandemic has drained the life out of [these journalists]. My answer to them is to quit your fucking job," Herrera said.
Which made me wonder: why dash the obscene gerund in the headline only to deploy it full strength in the kicker? Maybe Digiday Daily (what's that Australian horn? A didgeridoo) has different standards for headlines and text, or, more likely, no standards at all. That's okay. We're all making it up as we go along.
Nor do I want to be unkind to the article's author, less than a decade out of college (go Cavaliers!) and gainfully employed as a media critic in a profession that is falling away in big chunks. So my sympathy. Being a media critic nowadays must be like being a village's officially designated mourner during a plague, a hard enough job without having some old crocodile you never heard of rear out of his obscure midwest swamp to snap at you. Think of it as part of the education. Mike Royko once threatened to break my legs: scary then, now a point of pride. (Well, not pride. That's the first thing to go in journalism, whose continual, doglike humiliations are a ... wait a sec, maybe we should all quit).
Sorry. Yes, writing can be a thankless grind. And the temptation of leaving the sun-baked desert island of any particular place of employment and paddling away on your lashed-together raft to find some imagined ambrosia-scented paradise must be a powerful one. But I feel responsibility dictates pointing out that people who try that also drown. Not everybody who leaves journalism is glad they did. I've seen more than one colleague who quit the paper to go scale the heights of their dreams, or at least snap at a 25 percent raise shilling for some pol, later return to smear their face longingly across the newsroom window and plead to come back. The process of prying their fingers off their old desk and gently leading them away is a heartbreaking one, softly reminding them that certain professions are like being baptized. Some stains just won't wash off.
Anyway, as a guy who has been on staff of the same newspaper for 34 years, I thought I would put in a good word for holding onto your job, despite the pandemic. Bad years come and then they go. Yes, times have changed, and being strapped to the block, listening to Alden Capital whetting their cleaver, must be a terrifying situation to be in. I thought my friends over at the Tribune did the right thing, grabbing their cush salary-for-a-year buy-out life ring with both hands. Because odds are, if they didn't, they'd likely be laid off anyway in three months with nothing to cling to. Though they're still facing the problem of which direction to go. Sailing off into uncertain waters is no panacea, particularly if you don't own a sailboat.
It's possible to step back, strip off your barnacles, exercise self-care, as the kids call it, while still maintaining your connection to a publication—my colleague S.E. Cupp just did it, apparently to good effect. In my third of a century at the paper, I've taken off ... calculating ... nearly two years, total, between paternity leave, travel, book projects, rehab, medical leave and, umm, suspensions. I recommend considering that as well, if it's an option. (And it may not be. I'm well aware that anything said by a journalist working under a valid union contract risks straying into "Let them eat cake" territory. If this piece is merely a self-own, a bleat of obliviousness revealing my utter failure to grasp just how lousy the profession has become for people who are not me, well, sorry. I hope I'm not snug in the lifeboat, wrapped in a wool blanket, carping about those splashing around in the icy chop. And I hope this isn't as serious a lapse as Gene Weingarten dissing Indian cuisine, which seemed to echo and reverberate across the globe. For a flippin' month).
Consider the source. As I've said before, if you're not in the paper, you might as well be dead. That isn't a life imperative that meshes well with becoming a Lyft driver. There is no question that being a journalist is a calling, like being a doctor, though not nearly as well paid. For some of us. For others, well, if you can be more fulfilled renting out your sailboat, don't let me stand in your way. One problem in journalism is that too many people attempting to practice it don't grasp the privilege they enjoy, to snag the attention of the public and give them something worth reading. Or not worth reading, as the case may be.