The Accidental Journalist

Felix Salmon, who writes for Fusion.net, offers advice to would be journalists. Salmon explains the insurmountable difficulties new journalists face and the lack of pay to go with it. There’s a lot to his article, but the overall advice is to avoid a career in journalism.

I’m sure that many people have told you this already, but take it from me as well: journalism is a dumb career move. If there’s something else you also love, something else you’re good at, something else which makes the world a better place — then maybe you should think about doing that instead. Even successful journalists rarely do much of the kind of high-minded stuff you probably aspire to. And enormous numbers of incredibly talented journalists find it almost impossible to make a decent living at this game.

Salmon describes how he rose through the ranks writing for dry publications and eventually encountered some luck. I don’t have the same exact journey as his, but I too encountered luck.

When I wrote about Web 2.0 services in 2007, I chose WordPress to publish my content and was immediately struck by the WordPress fascination bug. The more I used it, the more curious I became about themes, plugins, and how it was developed.

I published blog posts chronicling my journey, sharing the things I learned. At the end of 2007, Mark Ghosh who owned Weblogtoolscollection.com contacted me out of the blue. He asked if I’d like to write for his website and get paid to do it. I have no idea how Mark discovered me, but his site was the largest publication devoted to WordPress at the time, so it was an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

I wrote for WLTC for at least a year, covering everything from news, to controversial topics in the community. Not once did I ever think I was a journalist. To this day, I struggle with calling myself a journalist because I don’t like the term and the baggage that comes with it, bearer of the truth and all.

The point is, I started off as a blogger and learned everything I could about WordPress as a user. I passionately shared my knowledge with an audience I didn’t quite know I had. It eventually afforded me a paid gig (this is the first lucky part). I agree with Salmon in that, the advice of five or six years ago of starting a blog and getting discovered is exceedingly difficult.

There’s no particular reason to believe that the best route to success is to first get your foot in the door churning out listicles, and then somehow work your way up the ranks. That might have worked for a few early BuzzFeed employees, but they, too, were lucky, winning the pick-the-right-startup lottery.

Similarly, there’s no particular reason to believe that the advice I’d give five or six years ago, which was basically “start a blog and get discovered”, still works. With the death of RSS, blogs are quaint artifacts at this point, and I can’t remember the last time I discovered a really good new one.

Personally, I hate the chains and shackles that come with the journalist title, at least the way I define the term. I just want to do what I’ve been doing for years; write about the things that interest me and if it happens to be similar to journalism, then so be it. I’d rather do that than actually be a journalist. Besides, what is a journalist anyway?

Salmon ends his post with somber advice:

If all you care about is the great journalism, then, well, go out and find great stories to tell, and tell those stories in a compelling manner. You’ll always be able to find somewhere willing to publish them, even if they pay little or nothing for the privilege of doing so.

On the other hand, if you’re more career-oriented, and want a good chance at a well-paid middle-class lifestyle down the road, I don’t really know what to tell you. Except that the chances of getting there, if you enter the journalism profession today, have probably never been lower.

Good luck to anyone out there pursuing a career in journalism, looks like you’ll need it.

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