The Dark and Horrible World of Journalism School

I’m gonna get in on this journalism circle jerk and tell you why I’m alright with all the bullshit.

One of the things I’ve been most impressed with this year was my conversation with good-girl journalism gangster Allison Pohle. On my back porch, everyone minus her smoking cigarettes, I small-talked her up: “How was your summer?” She’d been interning in New York City. I zoned out and waited for the form response to be over: “It was good. I feel like I had a good experience there. Totally good.” Instead she actually looked at my eyes and told the truth, that it sucked and she hated New York City and that she doesn’t want to go back. Fuck, that’s J-school bravery.

Kat Sostaric talked to me this morning about traveling to New Zealand, opening up her scope to new things, and journalism seeming pale and sad in comparison. It’s frustrating to feel unprepared for the world by Mizzou’s journalism program. To feel like you’re hopping from conveyor belt to conveyor belt, and if you step off for a moment it’ll be too late and you won’t be able to get back on. To listen to people say this isn’t your daddy’s journalism, that vacations and hiatuses or “figuring out your life” are things of the past.

Okay so we’re sad and everyone’s depressed although that’s a different issue although it’s so totally compounded by the j-school and we know that, and everyone’s worried and anxious and that, that is definitely caused by the j-school because it rises and falls with the semester like a big tearful tide of potentially cataclysmic existential breakdowns. And now we’re jaded, I guess.

Celia Ampel, master blogger of the stars, beautifully articulated why everything sucks, as she is wont and articulate enough to do. It’s frustrating to feel like you only know what you’re told to know and no more. Celia knows plenty about me. She’s seen me flounder and whimper in the heat of the journalism pressure cooker. She nudged me into flipping a middle finger to internships and climbing mountains this summer. Yesterday I imagined what if her laryngeal voice held the same command as her ideological voice and I shit my pants. That’s unrelated. While she hit on great discouraging points in her post, it doesn’t explain why these days I have the mixed-reviewed balls to enjoy the j-school and unbutton my shirt way too low in an almost desperate act of relaxation.

Alright how did a notoriously jaded journalism near-dropout — me — find peace with the j-school then? Perspective shift, I guess, thanks to a half-year vacation from journalism. That’s the takeaway of this piece. Took long enough to get there. I’m still just as cynical as I ever was about the seismic levels of journalistic fecal work, but Rob 2.0 compounds that with optimism for the worthwhile stuff and a better view of the school that’s stressing him out.

Mixed metaphor break. If you’re inside something for four years, you can’t see the outside of it, just like if you’re inside a box you obviously can’t see the outside of that box. If you have any concept of perspective then it’s absolutely mandatory that you leave journalism for a quick minute and breathe some fresh air. God, at least go to Cancun and get wasted. Then look at the small little house you lived in so long. Your bedroom won’t look as big as it did when you were younger.

The idea sounds a little classist. Like Kat said to me, how mindblowingly entitled are we to believe that we need to find the job that is “right for us.” That we need to “self-actualize” and have “identities” and be “happy.” It’s a small percentage of the world that can even dream of that. But I’m a journalist and it’s not my job to point out what is socioeconomically “fair” but to point out that that opportunity exists for most of my peers, and so to not live out your life as best as you can as it was handed down to you is ludicrous. Anyway, no matter how much money you don’t have, you can still be a camp counselor for the summer without thinking of WordPress journalism regurgitations for a single second.

The reason I don’t feel creatively or intellectually stifled here is because I don’t put that much stock in the J-school. What do you think is going to happen if you put stock in a large institution? If you work for Residential Life, you’re required to have some of the opinions of Residential Life. If you go to a massive institute of higher learning, you’re going to get a semi-uniform education, the one that’s available to all and tailored to few. If you live in the system, your identity is going to be shaped by the system. Your bedroom walls are going to be painted by the system.

I once put a lot of stock in creative writing workshops in the English department. Man, talk about a playing-field-leveler there. 12 people in one community is a large institution when it comes to craft writing. 12 people learning the same things, 12 people being told what is the right writing and what is the wrong writing. Creativity en masse, whoa, yeah right. Majority consensus dilutes the potential of the best writers and intimidates the potential of the worst writers, so that only if you are perfectly middle of the road and good at listening can you really thrive. It’s a large, centralized community. That means it moves toward the center.

Yo this shit is so boring but bear with me. Another academic example would be Jenn Rowe’s Mag Editing class. If I were to put 100% stock into that class and its teachings, I would think that grammar begets meaning, and not the other way around, which, to me, is absurd. Then again, that’s not what the class is designed to teach. It’s designed to immerse you in grammar so heavily so that when you come out, you might be completely sick of it, but most of the important stuff will be in your head forever, whether you want it to be or not. Call it the J2000 effect. The thing is to put it in context. Give it less weight and understand the shittiness of some of it without getting mad at all of it. If you’re against copy editing a five-page story on earthquakes, don’t do it. Or at least, glaze over it with your pencil and don’t double-check it. Choose how you want to be spending your time, not how Mizzou wants you to. Read the National Wildlife Federation’s Field Guide to North American trees instead. Then with those discrepancies, you can decide if your MU education is worth the money to you. (I could be using the first person here, you know, but it’s just going to make the second person implicated, which will make me sound even more preachy.)

When I graduate it’s pretty likely I won’t end up with a great job at Men’s Journal. I might end up exploring the West or chilling out. But I’m not going to live or die based on whether I live or die in journalism, no matter how hot the pressure cooker is.


“Everything I say perfectly reflects the views of my school, employers, clubs and organizations and should be taken 100% seriously.” –Brian Reitz’ twitter. I thought it was funny.

2 thoughts on “The Dark and Horrible World of Journalism School

  1. Thank you for writing this. I graduated in May and have had almost no luck finding work in the journalism industry. That last line, “But I’m not going to live or die based on whether I live ore die in journalism…” might become my mantra from now on. So from your past editor (who understands that she was part of what caused your near-dropping-out).

    P.S. Based on the work you turned out at Vox, I wouldn’t be surprised if you got a gig at Men’s Journal pretty damn close to graduation. Key being that in the end, that’s what you want.

  2. Pingback: Stage Fright | teddy nykiel

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