I have wondered how I would write about leaving journalism since I did so more than a month ago. Then I saw this photo on a friend’s Facebook page today. The friend is a photographer at the newspaper I just left.
I responded: “Nonono, that’s NOT what it would look like. It would look like a bunch of writers used their damn smart phones to take pictures of people staring at the camera with a flag pole positioned behind their heads.”
I scrolled down in my newsfeed a few more stories and found this, from the National Press Photographers Association. Headline: “Chicago Sun-Times Wipes Out Photo Staff.”
I thought I was reading “The Onion,” but no — this actually happened. The story even includes the line:
Sun-Times editor (Jim) Kirk supposedly told the reporters sometime last week that they would soon have to start taking photos and videos with their iPhones for their stories, according to a reporter in nearby Joliet who knows several journalists who are working in Chicago’s newsrooms.
My comment about reporters using smart phones? I was joking. But … I guess I wasn’t.
The decision to leave journalism was not an easy one for me. I got into newspapers because I love to write. I cannot even describe it as a passion, because a passion is a part of who someone is. Writing isn’t so much a part of me — it just IS me. I can’t not put pen to paper.
When I left my last job, I did so because I had to. No, I was not pushed out of there. But six months after I started work there, everyone’s pay was cut by 6 percent. It never changed from that number. A few months before I left, my boss called me into her office and told me I was getting a raise, because I had worked for so long, I deserved more, and she told me not to tell anyone, because it was not an across-the-board thing.
As she started to flip through paperwork to figure out what percentage increase I was getting, I said, “Oh, will it bring me up to what I made when I was hired?”
I was stunned. I was even more stunned when she never actually told me what percentage increase I was receiving. She didn’t know. And she never bothered to find out and tell me.
Hell, I worked for her for five years, and she didn’t know I was engaged for months. Did I offer up the information? No, but I wasn’t hiding it. She never talked to me enough for it to come up organically in conversation, and I’m not one of those girls to prance around like a Barbie doll shrieking, “I’m getting married!!” I promise she never once looked through my Etsy site, a huge part of what I do. The only time she ever said “I’m so proud of you” was when she saw a bag of Christmas chocolates on my desk in February — she was proud of me for not eating them all.
In her defense? She’s working for a floundering industry with superiors who don’t seem like they care to make any substantial changes that could actually benefit the industry.
And I would be willing to bet this is the case in 90 percent of the newspapers left.
As I read the photographers association story, and as I think about why I left my job, I am angry. I am angry that people don’t care. I am angry that people have ideas — YOUNG people have ideas, ideas abound in the young members of the staff I just left — but the old fogies who run the newspapers, the ones who can actually affect change, don’t listen to them. If someone with an idea voices an opinion, no one even pretends to hear it. The idea is shot down. Even the good ones.
This happened to me, more than once. I was taught early on that no one cared what I thought. Nevermind that I was actually good at my job. In the last three years, I received two first-place state awards. I’m not trying to boast; I’m just saying that I could have been the future of that industry. The old way will not work. The industry is changing, and people with new ideas need to lead. This is not happening.
Meanwhile, as a bright, shiny new marketing professional, I am consulted often. I am thanked for my work, and I complimented for my abilities. This is not a necessity of work, but it is something a person needs to hear. A person needs to hear she is appreciated, especially in an environment as toxic as journalism is today. Those five years assure that I appreciate this. I value being valued, and I take myself as an employee seriously, because those in charge of me have not always shown that they me seriously.
My environment now? In an office all to myself (I didn’t even have a cubicle at the paper), surrounded by coworkers who want to be in their current positions, answering to a boss who makes it clear that he values us? I know I am appreciated.
When I was little, I would spend nearly every Friday night at my grandparents’ home. On Saturday mornings, my papa sat at the kitchen table with his Papa Fred’s Bread (it was crusty Italian loaf, but I still call it Papa Fred’s Bread), a bowl of shredded wheat cereal and a copy of the Sun-Times.
I loved that newspaper. I loved that it was a size my little hands could flip through. The Chicago Tribune was just too unwieldy for a 6-year-old, but the Sun-Times was a tabloid, and it was perfect. It had big, huge, monstrous photos. Oh my goodness, the photos. In high school when I worked for my student newspaper, it was a tabloid. And I always felt proud of the format, because I always felt — just a little bit — that this must be what it was like to work for the Chicago Sun-Times.
The field has so much talent, so many people who live and breathe by what they do. Cut them, and they bleed newsprint. Journalism, I think many people forget, is the only profession in the country protected by the Constitution. The United States has freedom of the press. The forefathers found it so important, they protected it in the document Americans live their lives by.
But when no one is willing to change, things eventually get so bad that entire staffs of award-winning photographers get laid off.