The Reporter's Life
So You Want To Be a Journalist
June 2009

by Eileen Douglas

You would think with all the journalists losing their jobs, being tossed out of the game or scrambling to find work, there'd be no one new wanting to come into the pipeline. Not necessarily true, I discover.

It was running into Rebecca's father that first gave me my oh-my-god moment.

Rebecca was a 4-year-old when she lived next door. Smart and cute, and all those good things you like a 4-year-old to be. Her family moved away, and one recent day when I randomly ran into her father, I was shocked to hear Rebecca was getting ready for college, and, "Oh, by the way, she wants to be a journalist."

Honestly, I don't know what surprised me more. To hear that Rebecca was old enough for college trips, or that she wanted to be a journalist. Now? In this world of slashing newsrooms? Of course I said what I always say when I hear someone's nephew, daughter, third cousin wants to be a journalist. "If she wants to talk, please have her call me."

What shocked me even more was that, in the blink of an eye, my phone rang with this grown-up person on the other end (who at first I didn't realize was Rebecca – as clearly in my mind Rebecca is still a 4-year-old), telling me her dad said to phone. No one has ever taken me up on that offer "to talk" before. And, at this perilous time, with experienced journalists losing their jobs left and right, the next shock for me was forming up the question from the foggiest bottom of my brain: "You mean there are still 17-year-olds out there who want to be a journalist?" and realizing the answer is, "Yes."

You're kidding, right? I would have thought by now all young people who might otherwise have aspired to join our ranks would have seen the battering those already firmly in these careers are taking and run for the hills.

Don't they see what's going on?

Yes, they do. But it doesn't necessarily matter.

This is not about whether it is wise, but whether it is a matter of the heart. A calling. Not about whether it is smart, but finding there are still those who dream of this life for reasons they best can explain.

Rebecca tells me she fell in love with journalism early. In 9th grade she wrote for the school newspaper. In 10th grade she got on staff. Heading into her senior year, she's just been named editor-in-chief. She loves the pressure of a newspaper's daily deadline. The chance to be talkative with a positive purpose. She reads The New York Times. She believes the job comes with importance. She likes investigation. To go undercover. To expose things. To be able to voice her opinions. She has chosen her number one college pick because the school has an active paper and she hopes to be on staff. "I am," she says, "a journalist at heart." And yes, she sees what's happening to newspapers and knows she may be watching her dream dying. But she also knows, because she went to a journalism convention where the speaker told them so, that reporters will always be needed. No matter what. And she is willing to work in other branches of the business. As she puts it, newspapers are sort of dying, but the new media branch is not so dying.

"I'm a dreamer," she says. "I still have hope."

Ask her where she'd like to see herself in 10 or 20 years, she's quick with an answer. "Editor-in-chief of The New York Times."

Then there is Danielle.

Danielle announced herself with an e-mail that popped up on my computer. As a sophomore journalism student at the University of Arizona, she had an assignment to interview someone who had her "dream job." "Basically," she wrote, "all of my dream jobs are part of your life's accomplishments." How could I resist! Of course, I would be happy to do a short phone interview for her report. But I was just as interested in turning the tables and asking her the same questions I had Rebecca.

Why, for goodness sake, with what's going on in the business, still dream of the journalist's life?

Danielle, who is 20, has only recently come to journalism. It has sort of always been there, but she didn't really nail it until she got to college. What appeals is how there are so many different things you can do with it. Print. Broadcast. New media. So many different ways to go. But of one thing she's clear – she wants to be the one directly giving people the news. And, yes, she admits to being a little bit worried. She knows this is a hard time and admits it's scary. But her impression is her immediate future is fine. Right out of college she knows she'll be cheaper to hire and doesn't think she'll have as hard a time as she might if she were older. And she intends to be flexible. There are, in her words, so many ways she could be happy.

Ask Danielle where she would like to be in 10 or 20 years and she is equally clear.

"I would love to be a TV news anchor. For a big station."

June. The month when high school students about to be seniors dream of college where they can get a jump on being journalists, and college students dream of getting their life going. As journalists for real.

Dreamers or not, how lovely to know that still they do.

© Eileen Douglas

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for "ABC-TV's Lifetime Magazine," she is the author of "Rachel and the Upside Down Heart," and co-producer of the films "My Grandfather's House" and "Luboml: My Heart Remembers." She can be reached at

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