Tread lightly

There’s nothing eloquent I can say about last week. I’ve tried. At my reporting internship last Tuesday, most of the reporters and editors around me received some terrible news: they will lose their jobs in June as the Examiner becomes a new online political publication.

I stood in the newsroom with the others, in silence, feeling a little awkward as the only person in the room who would not be directly affected. My internship will end before the newspaper shuts down. And I’m only 21 years old, after all. I’ll be OK.

Still, I know I will never forget that moment, when I was blindsided by the reality of making it as a newspaper journalist in 2013. I had heard stories of newspapers dying; I had seen ominous empty desks in newsrooms that had resorted to layoffs or furloughs just to stay in business. I knew that if I wanted to become a journalist, it was going to be tough. I was determined not to let newspaper nostalgia distract me from the good journalism that was happening in the wake of new technology. But it was all hypothetical then — a quiet blue line on a graph.

The same day that my newspaper began its long goodbyes, my friend Melissa wrote that she decided to leave journalism entirely:

I don’t want to spend years chasing bylines (succeeding in journalism by all traditional measures) just to end up drained and unsatisfied—that is, more drained and more unsatisfied than I am now.

Former reporter Allyson Bird wrote a very similar piece on the same day, explaining why she left news:

News was never this gray, aging entity to me. It was more like young love, that reckless attraction that consumes you entirely, until one day – suddenly — you snap out of feeling enamored and realize you’ve got to detach. I left news, not because I didn’t love it enough, but because I loved it too much – and I knew it was going to ruin me.

I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Why did I want to be a reporter when my job and my own dreams could betray me? And so it was that I sat on a Metro train on Wednesday morning, reading Allyson Bird’s blog post on my phone, wearing my fancy professional clothes on the way to my internship, and wondering whether this career I had chosen was worth the cost. A woman next to me was reading the Examiner, crinkling back the paper pages to scan the crime section. Tears came, unbidden.

I had believed in what our newspaper was trying to do; I believed in local news, in keeping power accountable, in the relationships we had built. I loved my job, and I came alive when I reported a story. None of those things changed last week. But I did.

I know that I am chasing a career where nothing is guaranteed. It was easy to declare that I wanted to be a journalist when I was sitting in a college newspaper office, with every byline stoking the bravery burning in me. But for a few days last week, I saw my dream like one of those old video games where the character jumps onto blocks that hang precariously in mid-air. He has to keep moving before they crumble beneath his feet.

The ache that kept me awake after last week’s news has stilled. I see that I cannot place my security in the dreams I adopted when I first decided to become a journalist. My dreams and ambitions must grow with me, and I cannot know what forces in my life or in the news industry may come and redirect my path. But as well as I can, for as long as I am able, I will I am going to live out my calling in journalism — if not for the next 30 years, at least for today — and the gift of doing what I love today is enough to sustain me. I am 21, and I want to be a reporter. Come what may.

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2 thoughts on “Tread lightly

  1. Good article, Ms. Burbank. I trust Mario will continue to pursue the next level, despite the sudden twists and turns that come!

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