Ballad of a Recent Journalism School Graduate
This might be the closest I ever come to feeling like a Texas high school football star.
You know, like the ones on “Friday Night Lights”. The kids who peaked in high school, felt on top of the world because they were doing what they loved and got praised for it. They garnered the respect and attention of everybody around them while hardly noticing the four-year expiration tag attached to the experience.
And then, as quickly as that fame came, it all disappeared.
Being talented enough for All-Conference, was no longer good enough for Division I. The ride of their lives was over after the final whistle, and slipping into obscurity, they had only the memories to reflect back on.
This is what they don’t tell you senior year. This is what I wish professors, students and advisors told me before I walked off campus for the last time.
Granted, before I go on, it is only fair to say that this is not a shared experience amongst every recent journalism school graduate. Every one of them has their own story to tell. However, this is mine. It may also be somebody else’s and it will surely be duplicated.
They don’t tell you about the long nights staring at the ceiling, in the same bed that you’ve had for most of your life, thinking about the future as the morning hours melt together into one anxiety-filled evening.
They don’t tell you about “the process.” An ugly, impersonal cycle of waking up, scouring websites for job listings, emailing connections about potential openings, forcing yourself to write cover letters that make you seem excited about covering high school sports in a county you’ve never heard of, waiting, waiting some more and then either getting that exhilarating call for an interview, receiving the blanket email that says the position has been filled, but your information is on file or just never hearing back from them again. After step one, be prepared to repeat step two, by the way. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the job and that $25,000 salary (which is $9.33/hour, if you work 8 hours/day for 335 days/year…a Trader Joe’s “crew member” makes about $12/hour).
They will tell you times are hard and show you the plummeting stock prices. Expect some, but not all, places to expect you to do everything. This is a listing for the Pryor Daily Times found on journalismjobs.com that is for a sports reporter. It reads, “Applicants should know Quark and have good photography skills. Duties include game coverage, in-depth features, pagination of daily sports pages and special sections.” Newspapers used to employ photographers to the take pictures, designers to design the page and reporters to write the stories. Then the Internet was created, news became free, nobody wanted to read yesterday’s news and newspapers were forced to cut back, thus combining three positions into one.
I didn’t apply to that job in Pryor, Oklahoma. I write. I tell stories. I gather the extraordinary perspectives of people you never knew existed in this world and try to deliver them in a way universally understood by a literate public. I don’t want to wake up in the morning and go to work. I want to wake up in the morning and love what I do.
They always liked to tout the successful alumni. There were always reminders online, in lectures and pictures within the corridors of the school. You can be that person.
I looked at the map they put before me and started paving my own path. Writing for and moving up within the student newspaper, getting the internships, networking, branding yourself, etc. I was doing all the proper steps and everything was working out.
College was proving to be the best years of my life up to that point, as advertised. Professionally, I was nurturing an emerging talent as a sportswriter by covering the small stuff (women’s basketball), moving to the bigger stuff (Baltimore Orioles for MLB.com) and experiencing the unforgettable stuff (2011-’12 Indiana Hoosiers basketball). The attention kept growing and I wasn’t stopping it; radio spots, Twitter followers, reader emails and compliments from writers whom I used to only know as a byline. It was the senior year I never wanted to end.
I was following the map perfectly and it was taking me where I wanted to go, there was little doubt anything could derail me from destiny.
They don’t tell you about the worst part. They don’t tell you about that feeling of uselessness that sets in after two months of denials. They don’t tell you about that feeling you get after being on a beat nonstop since junior year and then not having one. It’s like being a hollow shell, waiting for some hermit crab to accept you and take you somewhere –anywhere- because it’s better than being dormant.
It’s worse than watching paint dry or the grass grow. It’s watching your crappy grass die, while the business major’s lawn is replaced with NFL-grade field turf and an expert-irrigation system.
It’s knowing where you want to go, but running out of gas halfway through the trip (and while we’re at it, let’s say your cellphone dies, too).
It’s currently 4:15 a.m. and this column has already been written several times this week. Every night when my head touches the pillow, the same reoccurring expressed worries replay in my mind like a bad Ernest movie. I knew they would continue to stay there until I sat in front of my computer and wrote them.
Because I’m a writer. This is just what I do. It’s what I was impartial to growing up, learned to love in college and is what will give my life purpose as a career.
I have my foot in the door, but sometimes it feels like somebody is on the other side trying to push me out. Some days it feels like sports writing is giving up on me, other days I feel like giving up on it.
But it’s that supreme happiness that sports journalism brought me for so much of my time in college that keeps me coming back to it.
I don’t want the ride to end, for the Texas State Football Tournament to end and for me to start working at the local body shop with a graduation ring as a taunting reminder of days when I found fulfillment.