Are you an aspiring writer with an eye for a great story? If so, a career in newspaper writing and editing may be the right path for you. In this interview, a features editor and newspaper columnist shares here career experience, including how she’s faced discrimination because she is a woman, as well as the great reward she receives knowing she has made a difference at her job.
Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
A: I’m a features editor and columnist for a large daily newspaper and have been for the past eight years. I’d describe myself as empathetic, humorous and friendly.
Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?
A: I am a caucasian female, and I feel that it has both helped and hurt me in my profession. The field of journalism is mainly a “boys club” if you will, and sometimes it’s hard to make my voice heard in a news meeting where I am the only woman. Some of the men in their 60’s tend to overlook what I say, “poo-pooing” it as too “sympathetic” and that I’m blinded by my compassion for others. I think that’s a misnomer and unfair that my opinions and thoughts are easily dismissed because men consider females to be the weaker sex.
In one particular news meeting, there was a story about a homeless man and whether or not our paper should cover it. When I chimed in that we absolutely should, the managing editor snidely remarked, “Never send a woman to do a man’s job.” In front of the whole newsroom. I was embarrassed, angry and felt humiliated, but decided to not show my feelings because it would reinforce what he was implying about me and my emotions as a woman. I don’t know if I should’ve handled it differently, but I felt the best way was to not engage the comment and make the situation worse.
Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
A: I’d describe what I do as digging around in my community for interesting human-interest stories. I generate and write these stories as well as assign other features to the writers in my features’ section, as well as write two weekly columns that have been described as “Sex in the City-ish.” There is a misunderstanding that it’s an easy job to slap some words on paper and call it a story. We research our articles and columns tirelessly, come across writers block and although it’s not rocket science, it’s not as easy as some would think.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
A: On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d my job satisfaction as around an 8. I love what I do, but the hours and pay could be better. So, if I was paid like a rock star and could work whatever hours I wanted, I’d be the most enthusiastic journalist on planet Earth.
Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
A: My job truly moves my heart at times. Sometimes, I meet the most amazing people when covering or writing a story – people that make their corner of the world a more interesting, lovely place.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
A: I got started in journalism because I love to write, and have been doing it as long as I can remember and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
A: I learned the hard way that criticism of your work is not a personality assassination. I made an editing mistake that made it into the paper and was called into the publisher’s office for a dressing down, which I took personally. I shouldn’t have – it was a mistake, and most people make them.
Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
A: The single most important thing I’ve learned about the working world is that you have to develop thick skin. No one is going to hold your hand and walk you though your job, and you have to be self-sufficient and able to take criticism.
Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
A: The strangest (and most fun) thing that’s ever happened is getting to meet George Clooney when he was in my town.
Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
A: I get out of bed for work every day because of the amazing people I get to interact with on a daily basis. When I do a features story on a person who would otherwise go unnoticed and they send me a thank-you card or express gratitude, that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something and changed the world a tiny bit.
Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?
A: The overt sexism in the newsroom has made me feel like quitting a few times. It’s difficult to listen to a group of men berating women day after day.
Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
A: My job can be very stressful at times, as the newspaper business is a deadline-driven profession. Although I thrive on pressure (most journalists do), sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s par for the course.
Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
A: The salary range for a journalist or editor is roughly between $40 and $50,000 per year. This is after several promotions, as I started out at $35,000. Journalism is not a particularly lucrative field, but if you freelance on the side, you can easily make ends meet. Of course, I’d be happier if I was paid a ridiculous sum of money to do what I love – who wouldn’t?
Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
A: Vacation is a tricky thing in journalism, and it is hard to find an opportunity to take time off. For an editor to take any vacation time, you have to prepare you section for the time you’ll be away, and that’s sometimes more work than it’s worth. I get to take long weekends here and there, and my bosses have no problem with me taking my deserved vacation time, but it’s more my decision to not be away from my job for a whole week at a time. I feel guilty and worry that my section will fall apart if I’m not there, which is not the case, but I’m a bit of a control freak and want to oversee it at all times. Maybe one day I’ll loosen the reigns and relax.
Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A: The education and skills you need to get hired in the journalism field are a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, or English and inherent writing skills. To succeed, you need to be able to put sentences together – you need a talent for smelling a good story, and be able to bring it to life on the page for readers. If you can’t draw the readers in, no one will be interested in reading what you have to say and you become lost in the shuffle.
Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
A: I’d tell a friend considering my line of work that it’s tough to leave your work at work. There are some stories you carry home with you. When you have a tragic story, it’s impossible to stop thinking about it when you leave work and try to return to normal, after-hours life. But if you can handle that, it’s also an extremely rewarding profession and I’d highly recommend it to writers.
Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
A: If I could write my own ticket, I’d write the great American novel, win the Pulitzer Prize, retire in the the South of France and write for the rest of my days on the beaches of the French Riviera.