Thursday, May 12, 2005

My Commencement Address to the News Editorial Class of 2005

I caught Bright Eyes and The Faint last night at the Mid America Center. I will be the first to concede that I was about ten years too old to fully be part of 'the crowd.' It's going to be really interesting when I take my 14-year-old nephew to see Green Day. (continuing my family tradition first adopted by my sister, who, despite her refusal for listening to anything heavier than Styx or Kenny Loggins, fearlessly took me to see the Beastie Boys and Fishbone during their 'Licensed to Ill' tour in 1987). Anyway - I saw one of my journalism grad buddies - who is about 27 now - wearing denim Capris and a lace, thrift store Ballerina top over those Capris. All that was missing was a polka-dot, Hello Kitty purse to mask her desperation to remain cool. I believe she works for an insurance company now. And making more than she would working at a newspaper.

I'm in the same boat. I got out of the full-time journalism game to take a job as a technical writer for a medical software company. The job gives me full authority, I have virtually no supervision and I can listen to NPR (right now Ridley Scott dissecting his masterpiece 'Blade Runner' right now on Studio 360) and CDs all day. And it pays the bills.

But I'm still kicking myself for not taking a copy editing job in Bend, Oregon a few years ago. I justified this career decision by saying that I didn't want my eight years of hospital radiology experience (I worked there for eight years to pay for school) to go to waste. I justified it by saying that I can learn new technology like RoboHelp, FrameMaker and DreamWeaver and keep myself relevant in the marketplace. But - it came down to being able to live alone and pay for a car payment, student loan and your average credit card debt vs. having a roommate and working a second job waiting tables and working at a paper.

I can imagine a lot of kids feel the same way. It doesn't help that some of our journalism peers call us "sellouts" for taking corporate jobs. I keep vowing to get a freelance job, but securing a national freelance gig that pays is about as difficult as beating Halo on the 'Nightmare' level in one setting.

It's not just the money. As far as occupations go, the public trusts the media about as much as lawyers and porn producers. True, the public doesn't rave about the media, but they also don't rave about the drinking water - I think it's just one of those aspects of life where the majority of people are cynics. In essence, you're going into a job where people already hate you. You're also entering a market where newspaper sales are plummeting (why clutter your house with paper and coupons for processed cheese when you can read most articles on the Internet for free?), some press corps members and even networks are turning into propaganda machines and not legitimate news sources, forcing an average reader to get one take from NPR, another take from Fox news, maybe some Salon, Slate or BBC to balance things out for one damn story and finally, you see stuff like Iraq and Afghanistan take a back seat to runaway brides. This business is not for the weak.

Still, you can do it. When I was making $10 an hour as a copy editor during an internship, I somehow made ends meet. If you feel it in your gut that you have to be a journalist, that's going to be something that will eat you away if you don't at least give it one half-ass shot. Besides, that hunger in your gut will always bring journalism out of its doldrums. So, best of luck to you. Just don't be hating us folks on the sidelines who are still looking for the perfect freelance gig (that pays - that's the key).

Music topic - The Shins
I'm beginning to think The Shins's Oh Inverted World will be the cult album of this decade. It came on the scene more than three years ago, but if you catch Amazon's best sellers, it remains on their Top 50. Yes, Garden State has something to do this - but there is something to be said for word of mouth. In a few years, it could be one of the only 5-million-plus selling albums that probably sold about around 10,000 copies a week at its height ... however, as long as colleges have freshmen and sophomores, it's pretty safe to assume that this album is going to sell 10,000 copies a week for a few years.

Music selections of the day:
Bruce Springsteen - Devils and Dust
The Clash - s/t
The Shins - Oh, Inverted World
Fountains of Wayne - Utopia Parkway


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