What It's Like To Be A: Journalist
What about the humans behind the headlines?
Had you told me 3 years ago that I'd be a paid journalist, working on a local, national and even international level, I'd laugh in your face, insult you through a childish emoji-ridden Facebook comment, sip away at my Monster Energy and continue painting my canvas. You see, I used to want to become an artist, before my life changed in one weekend.
Prior to that change, that I'll divulge later, I had no idea what the world of journalism entailed. I knew it existed, of course, and I knew those mysterious guys and gals worked furiously to spew out the newspapers, news stations, radio shows, podcasts and live tweets to keep us informed. They were awake 24/7 to break the news we didn't want to hear, in the moments of the darkest hours. I had no idea I would be thrown into that world ever, let alone in one weekend. So what is it like to be a journalist? What's the nitty gritty, unknown stuff that you can't really read about online?
Firstly, it really isn't always glorious. Really. Yes, we get access to those glittery red carpets, backstage one-on-one time with celebrities and inside knowledge of almost every single thing going on in the world, but with great knowledge comes great stress. Unbelievable stress. Then moral guilt shortly after. Why? Well, especially applicable to freelance writers, we can only focus on one story at a time, meaning we have to filter the "wanted" and the unwanted, to determine what story is more important. For example, recently I had to reject a story on a local elderly man's death just because of a politician's resignation. Morally, that determination of importance is abhorrently wrong , but in this line of work, it's an every-hour occurrence. We have to latch and commit ourselves to a single story or thread, and sometimes that means we have to ignore some of the other stuff in the world - hard for any human with any emotions, especially when the grief and anxiety one person feels is so overwhelmingly apparent.
Another struggle we journalists face on a near-enough every day occurrence, especially since the delightful surprise of Donald Trump's presidency, is the criticisms we receive for merely existing. Gone seem the days of journalistic prestige and adoration, and instead we are snubbed by the man-with-the-red-button in 140 characters or less to an audience of millions. Our work, our ethics, our employment and our way of life and work called into question for nothing more than personal bias. It does happen a lot more than you'd think, and absolutely extends further than the marble and gold walls of the White House; on a daily basis, simply when riding the bus or walking through a newsagents, I hear people criticise various papers for "bias," for "misinformation" and for "not informing us properly." Only today, the BBC - the UK's biggest televised and radio news source, was dragged for allegedly producing false figures on the deaths of the victims in the Grenfell Tower fire in London. This wasn't true and instead created to denigrate the moral standing of a news outlet for sociopolitical point scoring in the time of a national tragedy. And sometimes, I think, we deserve it. Kind of.
Some papers take it too far, and some are so clearly and overtly bias that they offer no other route of criticism than to argue every point as distortion. Whilst, as a journalist myself, I refuse to namedrop examples - but many in the UK know one major newspaper that does this very thing - be it in a time of national tragedy or political events. These outlets somewhat deserve what they get, but the journalists behind the articles and the stories simply don't deserve the character assassination that seems all too common today. Take 10 minutes to scroll through a Twitter search of "journalist" and "kill," and you'll quickly discover what I mean.
Finally, it's simply exhausting. The news never sleeps, just like politics, and there's plenty of it to pick from. From the emerging crises of the Middle East on a nightly basis, to the economic turmoil of Greece - the political thunderstorm in America and the even bigger political circus here in the United Kingdom. Thing's keep rolling, and accumulating, and us journalists - especially us independent and self-employed writers, find ourselves at the bottom of an infinitely growing pile. The tragedies and the horrific stories weighing down and concealing the happy ones, the disgusting and odd ones blanketing out the moral and humane side of humanity. We, like outlined above, face a constant moral battle of what to publish in a perpetual cycle that spins faster and faster as we grow older, a process that apparently does not give way to age, and certainly not to hands-on experience. The strains of traveling to stories, as I recently did in response to the horrific Manchester bombing, take their toll on our bodies - a sleep cycle simply doesn't exist with us. We stay awake until 2 am as the world's stories emerge, and when we do sleep, we keep one bloodshot eye open to social media in the search of a breaking story. We have to be ready to traverse the country at the flip of a coin and do so without second thought of safety or health. If a story needs covering, we're there - no matter the time, the weather, or the event. And for me to achieve, someone who is still a full-time student, that can get pretty hard sometimes.
But it's worth it. And that's the simple sentiment I must stress for a life in journalism, and what it's like to be a journalist: the work is hard, long and grueling, often without recognition, but it's worth it to inform the world. We write the history others create, and that in itself is an exciting and daunting prospect that still instills a rush of adrenaline through my spine whenever I hit 'publish'. If you don't like long hours, blunt responses and the President of the United States dragging you hourly on social media, this isn't the job for you. If you like the prospect of pushing yourself to your very limit, physically and mentally, and you enjoy creating - this may be the job for you.