I’ve been asking myself the question in this post’s title ever since I graduated from college.
When I was handed my diploma and awarded with the coveted degree in journalism that I had been working towards for years, I thought that the hardest part was over. I was expecting to begin my journey into true adulthood quickly finding a steady career where I could plant my roots in the industry. Networking and building those imperative relationships were at the top of my priorities, and my confidence was at an all-time high.
I was very optimistic about my potential. With all the hard work that I had put into my education, I saw the world opening invitingly for me, and I felt confident in my abilities to succeed in my field of choice. I was pursuing something that I loved doing, and I was already spending time mapping out my five-year trajectory, which obviously ended with me as the head reporter of The New York Times.
Though I would often joke about my ridiculous aspirations, I had no idea just how screwed I really was.
Wide-eyed and hopeful, I originally made the decision to study in the journalism field after developing a passion for television shows. My love for these shows brought me to social media, where I started a Twitter account and quickly became involved in online fan communities. I loved sharing my thoughts there, and people seemed to like listening to what I had to say. Things really took off though when an awesome blogger, who I am eternally grateful for, one day offered me the opportunity to cover a show on her site. The best part? She paid me to do it! Best job ever!
Working for the blog was amazing. Though I had done some smaller writing gigs in school, this was basically the first time in my life that I was writing professionally. I began my work covering NBC’s The Voice, and her readers treated me kindly despite my inexperience. The coolest part was that slowly, I started gaining a small social media platform of awesome followers. My budding writing aspirations gained further momentum with the success of my articles, some of which were receiving hundreds of comments!
All of this success made me fall in love with the journalism field. I simply loved what I was doing, and I decided that this was what I wanted to do for my career. My parent’s hopes that I would become a lawyer be damned, I was going to be a writer!
I started college and as soon as I could I declared my journalism major. I hit the books and started putting in work to make myself a better writer. Along the way I took up a summer internship position writing for another website, where I was now covering celebrity gossip in addition to my beloved television shows. I didn’t love that I now had to write about pointless celebrity drama, but hey, I told myself, this was just a summer thing and I wouldn’t be doing it forever.
Returning back to college, my summer internship ended and I went back to occasionally writing for the original blog. I sailed through college scoring mostly As and Bs, and on the side I started writing short editorial pieces for myself as practice. During this time I started to develop a love for storytelling, and I would often daydream about ideas that I’d use for a potential book that I one day hoped to write.
Eventually my senior year of college was upon me. I loaded up my final semesters with journalism courses as a last hurrah, and began working on job applications. My brain instantly went to the big name websites that covered television shows, and I would spend hours working on a resume and cover letters to send them. A few months later when I didn’t hear back from any of them, I persevered and redoubled my efforts to get their attention. I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Amid my persistent optimism, I tried my best to ignore the foreboding storm clouds that were starting to accumulate in relation to my post-graduation life. During a class on critical aspects of promotional media in my penultimate semester, I started to develop a cynical attitude towards journalism and the media. Due to the nature of the course, my eyes were opened to their unfavorable sides and I found myself starting to become resentful of the very field I was about to enter. Whereas I used to enjoy the media for its seemingly innocuous behavior, now I could only see the flaws. This perspective started to drip into my love for television shows, and it left me struggling to enjoy them. Regardless, I pushed those thoughts down and trudged along, holding on to my love for writing as my beacon of light.
As I began my final semester of college, things began to unravel in a downward spiral. I still couldn’t find a job despite spending nights working into the early hours of the morning sending out applications. With each passing day drawing me closer to my graduation, the onset of panic was starting to settle in. By far the worst part about sending out applications was when occasionally a big name company that I applied to would actually respond, but then ghost me after I replied and got my hopes up. As my resentment for the application process grew, my options dwindled and I was ready to jump on any opportunity I found. Anything to prove to my family that I hadn’t made a horrible mistake by choosing to go into this field.
Despite how miserable I was during this time, nothing compared to the crummy situation that came a month before my graduation. With her health having been slowly deteriorating in the past couple of months, my family decided to put our dog Demi down. My mother, brother and I had grown really close with her and it was a knife right to the heart when we had to bring her in. My mother and I stayed with her, and she closed her eyes for the last time while laying on my lap. I remember holding her tightly and trying to speak coherent words of comfort to her, but there was nothing I could have possibly said to make the ordeal any less shitty. The experience left me an emotional wreck, but I tried to put on a brave face for my last few weeks of classes.
When graduation day finally came, I felt the panic that had been developing start to come to a head. I remember waking up in the middle of the night before the ceremony in a cold sweat, having had a nightmare where I was a homeless failure. Rather then go back to sleep, I tried talking myself down but for the first time I began to seriously doubt the academic choices I had been making.
“You really should have listened to your parents and tried to become a lawyer,” I said harshly to myself. At this point though there was no turning back, so I filled my head with faux-hopefulness and tried my best to smile pretty for the camera. Sitting in the audience at the ceremony, I thought the happy thoughts I shared in the earlier paragraphs, and for a fleeting moment I believed them. I always found it depressingly ironic that at the end of the day my family ended up going to Princeton University to take graduation pictures. The “you could have made better choices” motif seemed to be trying to tell me something.
Moving home after the ceremony, I began my post-academic career with only a part-time job writing content for a website about dogs (😢). I had found the job while searching during a sleepless night, and after a quick application and interview I was welcomed aboard. The opportunity wasn’t ideally what I hoped to be writing about, but the people were nice enough and I was happy to be making money. Life went on normally, and I would spend my time alternating between working and searching for a full-time position.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the summer I was laid off from the position and back at square one, except now I was jobless and living at home with my parents. With the start date of my student loan payments quickly approaching, I took up some odds and ends jobs around the neighborhood that carried me through the year. My continued lack of success in journalism was starting to get to me though, and I began weighing my options. I started considering going back to school, but I quickly rejected the idea. I reasoned that as awful and depressed as I was feeling, I thought it would feel ten times worse to go back to my friends and classmates as a failure. I had been building up my aspirations to them with so much hope and excitement, that I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t deliver on what I had set out to accomplish. My spirit was crushed and I felt defeated.
My original plan working in journalism was focusing on television coverage. Though only a narrow angle of a broad field, it was where I felt the most comfortable and able to really pour my emotions into an article. Becoming a TV newsman was something I would never back down from if offered such a position, but my drive always came from television. During this unsure time however, due to what I assume was mainly born from stress, I went through a period where I fell out of love with most of the shows I used to enjoy. My cynical side began to dominate my thoughts, and I couldn’t find the excitement that used to be so readily available when I sat down for a viewing session. I used to enjoy certain shows for their simplicity, but now all I seemed to be able to focus on was their problems, no matter how small or trivial. As my passion diminished, I found myself trying to pick up the fragments of what was left of the reason as to why I had gone into this field.
Towards the end of spring, things took a sudden surprising turn of events when I checked my email and found a message from a pop culture site I applied to requesting an interview. My feelings had been crushed so many times by the application process that they almost went into shock from this revelation. Nevertheless, I wrote back sincerely, trying hard to mask my excitement behind my professionalism. Things moved forward quickly, and after an earnest interview I was offered a writing position, which I immediately accepted.
I was finally working in journalism again! I couldn’t believe how quickly finding a job changed everything. My mood got better and I was no longer worried about having enough money to pay off my student loans. Slowly my feelings began cautiously returning and I began thinking that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t going to end up a failure after all. No matter what it took, I was going to make this opportunity work. Everything seemed to be falling into place, so I should have been able to finally be happy.
Except I wasn’t.
My time alone to my thoughts and inner critic had left its mark. Though I was in a better place now, something deep within my soul had changed and my mind couldn’t bring itself to feel the same passion I had in the past. Cynicism and apathy were running rampant through my head, and no matter how hard I tried to recall those happy memories when I first started writing, I just couldn’t get myself back to that place.
It didn’t help that the position focused mainly on celebrity gossip, which I had been slowly growing to detest ever since my summer internship. As depressing as my deteriorating feelings towards television shows were, I could still muster up some fake enthusiasm in my writing. I found no redeeming qualities writing about celebrities however, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. Working on covering their absurd shenanigans, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a co-worker at my summer internship position. We had been discussing celebrities, and I mentioned that I actually didn’t really care about the Kardashians. My co-worker’s face dropped, and they pulled me aside and said “ if you want to work in this field, never tell anyone that you feel that way.”
Celebrity drama and gossip never really ever interested me. Some people find joy living vicariously through their favorite celebrities, and that’s fine if they can, I just am not that kind of person. As I was going about my work in this field though, I started to realize that television journalism goes hand-in-hand with celebrity drama and gossip. When I would be composing content for publication, I always needed to make sure to find a way to marry the two into a single package. The reason for this is that half of the demographic that my angle of journalism appealed to were people whose interest primarily stemmed from the celebrities involved with the project. While there were those who were reading my content simply for the shows, others just wanted to hear more news about what their favorite celebrities were up to. The relationship between the two was that of a back and forth give-and-take, all of which amounted to them trying to promote each other.
My point is that television journalism depended on celebrity drama and gossip in a sort of symbiotic circle of promotional coexistence. The two worked off each other and one couldn’t thrive without the other. If I was going to want to be a television-focused reporter, I would also have to be willing to devote time to celebrities as well.
Since there was no chance in hell that I could see myself covering celebrities for the rest of my life, I had arrived at a crossroads. For me, I couldn’t live under the ridged ruling that if I wanted to be a television reporter, I would also have to pretend to care about celebrities and their ridiculous PR stunts. None of that worked for me. I needed the fluid, interactive, and laid back style of writing in order to enjoy what I was doing. Writing wasn’t satisfying to me anymore when I was constantly writing outside of my comfort zone, which is what lead me to the crushing realization that I was pursuing a career in something that was really more of a hobby.
The job didn’t end up working out in the end, which is for the best. Telling my parents that I was going to be unemployed again though really sucked. I tried to break the news to them as lightly as possible.
While my joke was totally straight out of South Park, when they heard the news they reaffirmed themselves as the best parents ever by being unflinchingly supportive. They gave me the space I needed to figure my next step and were understanding and sympathetic. Though I spent that night firmly planted in front of my computer listening to Coldplay’s Fix You on repeat and crying into a bowl of ice cream, I knew that whatever I decided to do in the morning they would be there ready to help.
The next day I decided I was going to start a blog.
So that about brings us to present day and back to the question in this post’s title: what do you do with a journalism degree? Well, the short answer is lots of things! Journalism is a great field because it’s so broad and has many different facets. Though it may still really be a hobby, I once had so much love for it that I’m going to give it another shot and try my best to make a career work and rediscover the passion I once possessed. As for my next step, I have started developing interest in some other angles of reporting that I am hoping to pursue. I now know that television journalism isn’t the angel I excel at, so it’s time to move on and explore a different one. Trial and error and all that jazz.
As for my future, who knows what will happen. Maybe I’ll figure out everything I want to do in life tomorrow, or maybe I’ll end up back in school trying to become a lawyer like my parents want. To be honest, I think not knowing is the exciting part that keeps me going every day. This world is full of twists, turns, and opportunities, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. If I ever do somehow become successful, I wanted to create this blog to be a platform that I can look back on and see how far I’ve come. Hopefully I’ll have a lot to show for myself down the line.