Working as Journalists—Expectation Vs. Reality

Posted by: Sami Smith

The media makes working in journalism look like a picnic behind grand glass doors: an endless cycle of fancy networking and Starbucks dark roast “addictions”. Business casual offices finally give young women a place to wear all of those pencil skirts, and men have an excuse to buy 2-for-1 suits. It’s the journalism world—media glorification style.

Anne Hathaway’s rise to magazine “somebody” in The Devil Wears Prada came only after she ran for coffee, did bitch-work, and ran for more coffee. But she made it, right? It only took her a few months—that can’t be too bad!

Mad Men glorifies the advertising world in the same way Glee does for high school a capella groups. But, as a former choir kid, I’m here to tell you that you can’t make eight part harmonies with four singers. I’d be willing to bet advertising professionals feel the same way about the AMC series.

The perpetual representations of journalists in television and movies is so wrong, it almost makes full circle back to being right. Before coming into journalism school, I completely bought into the hype. After a few years of classes and two years in the professional sphere, those illusions are shattered:

Magazines: 

  • You’ll work in a cube. A small, gray cube. Decorate only if you admit you could picture yourself in this sector of the industry forever.

  • Learn to fact-check, because it’s all you’ll be doing for awhile. Calls on calls on calls.
  • Be prepared for a time when your publication folds, especially if it’s one of the “starter,” a.k.a. special interest magazines at a larger publishing house.
  • The glamor of a photo shoot is lost under strange lighting, mediocre catered food, and the realization of how heavily even celebrities rely on Photoshop.

Advertising

  • Pitches don’t always end in a cheeky happy hour or a hot night of sex with a co-worker. Sometimes you just end up at home, savoring a Hot Pocket during Doctor Who.
  • Watching television or reading a magazine will never be leisurely again. You’ll be too busy critiquing to enjoy them.
  • EOD and ASAP suddenly mean raised heart rates and cancelled lunch plans.

Newspaper

  • (Depending on your hours) “What do you mean no one wants to grab dinner with me after the 2 a.m. deadline?”
  • Walk and talk interviews make you grateful you ditched the heels at events long ago.
  • Lunch break? You mean Ramen and a lukewarm cup of office joe at my desk?

Prepare yourselves. The journalism field isn’t what all too many people expect it to be. Fortunately, if we’ve made it this far in our academic careers, chances are that we’ve already realized that and decided to pursue it, anyway. The media gets the passion part of movies right, however. It makes their characters seem alluring, determined, and sexy, but in the real world, it’s what keeps us going. Maybe someday there will be shows about crafting the perfect lede, snagging your first big interview, or life in the cube world. Then again, those aren’t nearly hot enough for Hollywood. Hopefully our own desires to spread truth and bring light to issues across the world remind us that we are in the right place in the journalism field.

Tell me—when did you hit this expectation wall head-on? Will you stick it out even after the unveiling of journalism a la reality?

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6 responses to “Working as Journalists—Expectation Vs. Reality

  1. Well, that really put a damper on my day. I know that the journalism world isn’t glamorous but I still have hope that is it not as horrible as we might think. I pray that I am not working this hard to sit in a gray cube hating my life.

    • The point of my post was truly to highlight the unrealistic portrayals of working in the journalism field produced by movies and television. It really is important to find the sector of the industry you are truly passionate about and enjoy. That makes life in a cube or difficult deadlines seem insignificant. Hopefully those entering college to pursue a journalism degree are doing so because they share our passion, not because they think these shows are an accurate description of the career!

  2. Uh… one point here. Your journalism major can be applied in a non-journalism career. For J91, I had to interview an Magazines alum who is working in Admissions at Drake. She says that she applies her journalism degree to her job. She gets to travel to Chicago to talk to prospective students and work with the Marketing Office.
    Me, I know I just want to apply to my journalism/writing degree to something, and it does NOT have to be a journalism specific career. There are options out there.

    • Of course there are many options out there. I actually use my magazines degree to work in marketing and data analyzing right now. The point of my post was to highlight the differences between the way the media portrays the journalism field and the way it actually is. From personal experience and those of all of my colleagues, I can stand by everything that I’ve said. The post is obviously only speaking of those jobs portrayed versus their realistic counterparts, not degrading any type of journalism degree or saying it cannot be used elsewhere successfully.

  3. I think this post is very depressing to a degree, although I get where you are coming from. I think thinking outside the box of a journalism degree is the key. We are all learning how to adapt our skills so we are ready for the job market. I think journalism majors are prepared in all arenas. I am focusing on photography, graphic design and nailing down writing. Versatility is key and labeling ourselves all as traditional journalists is the wrong route.

    • I definitely agree. Journalism is constantly changing, and the field is so versatile that it’s hard to pinpoint any direction in which a degree in it could not go. Like I said in my last paragraph, hopefully our passion for journalism and our work make the media’s portrayal more of a humorous irony than something that misleads people into our field.

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