Journalism is a very idealistic profession. At least it is before you start a real job. Looking back, I’m realizing that working at the college paper had more in common with being in the classroom than it did with what a real newsroom is like. While we had an advertising department and budgetary concerns, there was still a lot of talk about changing the world and making a difference.
At a recent editorial meeting at my internship, almost all the talk was about increasing ad sales. I missed those idealistic college days as a higher-up discussed selling columns to local business owners. I’ve heard the word “advertorial” more in the past week than I had in my entire life.
People were excited about a proposed special section on homelessness, not because it would make a difference, but to compete with other papers and — again — sell ads. I guess I had this rosy idea of journalism as separate from all that. I knew that advertising pays to keep the lights on, but I didn’t realize that reporters have to think about selling ads almost as much the marketing department.
Still, the other reporters genuinely care about the stories they write – sometimes – and usually through a lot of cynicism.
I try to remember a teacher who taught one of my first journalism classes. He had an advertising background, and had some harsh words for The New York Times. He felt they weren’t adapting to the internet fast enough (this was 2009), and that they needed a better business plan.
“’You’ll miss us when we’re gone’ isn’t a business plan,” he said.
So I guess the focus on the business side of things is better than reporters who are so idealistic that they idealize themselves out of a job.
Oh, and I found out that I’m actually getting paid for a piece I wrote. It’s an unpaid internship, but I got assigned a freelance article about local businesses selling Thanksgiving décor. I guess it’s fitting that my first paid article in my life isn’t about something idealistic – it’s an advertorial.