I did not always want to be a journalist. Actually, the very first profession I remember dreaming of as a child was 'paranormal investigator.' As a child, journalism seemed like something men in suits did, and only on TV.
For the past nine months I've been asking about the problems you see in traditional media, and now it’s my turn.
I did not always want to be a journalist. Actually, the very first profession I remember dreaming of as a child was 'paranormal investigator.'
As a child, journalism seemed like something men in suits did, and only on TV. As a teenager I watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which introduced me to the idea that some journalists were not suits with teeth on TV–they could be part of the story. In doing so, they could reveal the nuances of a culture or a moment in history that few people outside certain circles could even imagine.
But that didn’t mean I saw myself doing it. I dabbled in writing fan fiction at one point, but other than that the only writing I did regularly was in my journal, and school assignments. I’ve kept a journal since I was 10 years old but that never seemed to count for much.
Over time I fell in and out of love with writing. It’s not exactly a high paying career, after all. Most people who love it do not end up doing it for a living. So I graduated high school without even considering it as a career, and for a while I worked as an at-home caregiver for seniors who lived independently. After a year, it became clear to me that I prefer crippling student debt over working wage labour for 40 years, or more.
Still, I didn’t see myself doing it for a living even when I landed a job working for the campus newspaper at SMU. It was a part-time gig to supplement my student loan, and it was also the best job I had ever had. So I applied for the job again, and again, and I worked as an editor there until my third year when I applied for the top position, editor in chief. The board decided to give that job to someone else… and then that someone else quit the day before school started.
That was the day they asked me to be the editor in chief of The SMU Journal.
That was when I finally started to see myself as a journalist.
And yet, from this point on, the more I learned about journalism, the less I saw myself in it.
Think of the shows and movies you’ve seen with journalist characters. All the President’s Men, The Post, Nightcrawler, Spotlight–overly ambitious, aggressive people (usually men but occasionally there’s an equally relentless woman) who would sell their mother and family dog for a good “scoop,” always rushing from one story to the next in the hopes of getting to the front of the scrum, the front of the morning paper, the cover of the magazine, or an exclusive interview with the subject of a scandal.
Luckily, as I continued to work and I met real journalists from across the country and around the world, I learned that this is not actually how most journalists live.
For sure there are journalists who seem to thrive on being in the centre of chaotic situations, but mostly, your run-of-the-mill journalist lives a quiet life off-screen, talking to regular people at the grocery store, the mall, city hall, etc. on a daily basis, forgetting to wipe ketchup off their shirt before it stains, occasionally writing a cover story on a local happening that no one outside of the area cares about, and kissing their children before bed. It is not like the movies. Unless they’re covering war zones or national and international politics, there is little glitz. Zero glam. Barely even 15 minutes of fame. That’s part of what I love about it.
When I participated in an entrepreneurial journalism program with LION Publishers, I was taught that the journalist is not the hero of the story, they’re the guide. We’re not Luke Skywalker, we’re Obi-Wan Kenobe. The guide helps the hero find what they need to know in order to change the world.
You are the hero.
I believe traditional news media misses this point when it creates an environment where journalists are forced to rush important local stories. Last I checked, the average newsroom demands each reporter submit 2-3 stories per day, in multiple formats. The 24 hour news cycle is a big problem in media today.
Important stories on topics that seriously impact lives require time to capture the deeper context, including how it feels to be affected or involved in it. The time is spent digging deeper, reflecting, debating and conversing, making it more engaging, enjoyable and accessible. No matter how big the newsroom, this can’t be done 2-3 times a day, every day.
We need reporters to keep their finger on the pulse, but we also need timely narratives that make sense of complicated stories by looking beyond the headline and by putting human experiences first.
And here’s the thing–despite appearances, news rooms aren’t changing any time soon.
Canadian news rooms are still 100% white way more often than not, and despite the combined efforts of several organizations across the U.S. and Canada over the past 40 years, the majority refuse to even share their diversity statistics, let alone make radical changes in hiring to affect who gets to decide the stories that get told, and how.
Legacy media is not going to lead the charge on doing news differently.
I have the training and experience, discipline, vision and passion, but I still have to work a full time job making a podcast for another company. I have to run my own social media, accounting, advertising, partnerships and sales, every aspect of running a business.
I also need rest and relaxation, because I’m not a movie journalist.
This is what I can do. This newsletter where I create and curate black news that informs, nourishes, and empowers.
In media this is a new field–independent black news that's also (kind of) not news. Surely there's a catchier name for it, but for now I hope you join me in exploring what it means to do news differently.
Email me a story that struck you deeply. Or, share your own idea about something impacting black lives that doesn’t get enough attention. Your input helps me decide on newsletter topics.