Never Looked Back

I saw a wonderful post today from a 20-something reporter who has gotten out of the business. She essentially burned through the same phases Journalism I once did, just in much less time:

  • Love
  • Wonder
  • Questioning
  • Disgust
  • Horror
  • Escape

Her name is Allyson Bird, and here’s her story on why she left News. What struck me is how different it is back on “The Island” today. When I got out of news in 2004, there was much shock and surprise that I would leave in something other than a coffin. I was going to “The Dark Side.” Allyson got that part too:

People in news like to describe a colleague’s departure, especially into a public relations or marketing job, as “going to the dark side.” When word of my resignation traveled through the newsroom, I heard “dark side” references over and over, always with a smile and a wink. I couldn’t help but resent them. But I looked over my cubicle each time and flashed my best Miss America grin instead of the middle finger poised over my keyboard.

What has changed is the number who want to escape with her:

I don’t know a single person who works in daily news today who doesn’t have her eyes trained on the exit signs. I’m not sure what that says about the industry, but I certainly don’t miss the insecurity.

In the last three years, I have had lunch meetings or drinks with no fewer than two dozen working journalists who want to know the secret to getting out. Often, it is a matter of getting them to understand their value and real skillsets, instead of just focusing on the Product they’ve been tasked with every day. It’s a change in thinking about the function of storytelling.

As I was getting out in 2004, I was venturing to a new place and it was definitely a solo journey. I was leaving the Island on a boat of my own making, and those journeys launch right after you smack the ship.

There’s an awful lot of work that goes into building a boat. Most people who care about sailing, and have the time, also have the disposable income to just lay out the cash and buy one.

Who builds boats these days, anyway?

Those trapped on islands.

Desperation breeds ingenuity, resolve, and all of those other positive character attributes that boy scouts require, since the organization doesn’t offer ship-building merit badges.

Badges — we don’t need no stinking badges. Just give me some tools, or some sharp rocks to make rudimentary tools, and let me chip and chop some bamboo and coconut trees. If Gilligan can make a raft, I can make one with shade. I’ll lash the posts together, boil my own rosin, and make this sucker seaworthy.

So. Why am I so crazy?

Turns out, there’s boatload after boatload of people trying to get onto my island. So many people, eager for their day in the sun, and ready for the life of splendor and luxury that goes with it. It’s only after a four-year cruise they find out it’s a one-way trip, and the locals pay you with sand.

Sand. Nothing but ground quartz. If there was a way to heat it up, you could make some glass, or maybe a mirror. Then all of the self-made refugees on my island might figure out what they really look like, instead of relying on their own absorbed self-images.

Poor kids. They spent so much time trying to beach themselves, they can’t bring themselves to ask whether they should be trying to go home, or someplace more fulfilling. Because island life is hard. You can only live for so long on cocounts and weed salad. And Tom Hanks made spear-fishing look easy.

The recent arrivals marvel at my survival skills, but I dare not show them the boat I am building. I’m not worried about anyone taking it for a spin — It’s just easier to deal with the rest of the lost if you don’t remind them how lost they are. They just get angry at you.

Building a boat isn’t easy — and it’s even harder when you have to do it in quiet.

The key is concentrating on the boat. You can’t look out at the waves, because there’s another fear that grips you. The fear your boat somehow won’t handle those waves. The fear you’ll find little to eat and less to drink out there than you’ve got right here. The fear the others will laugh at you when you float back to shore, in your red shirt and white Gilligan hat.

I made up my mind that I was going, but hadn’t put a when on that plan.

The siren did that for me.

Now, I really was worried about my boat, because the siren called my name before I was ready. At least, before I thought I was ready. All those fears, all those insecurities, all those doubts… you know what the hardest part was?

Smacking the ship.

Because when you do, you have to give the craft a name. It becomes a relationship. It becomes personal. If it fails, you’ve failed.

Don’t ask me how, but I wound up smacking my ship anyway. And I launched. And I’m off. And I’m relieved. And I can’t thank the siren enough.

I’ve still got a little owing to do.
I’ve still got a little rowing to do.
I’ve still got a little growing to do.
But at least I’m off the island.

It’s been nine years, two months and five days since my last story ran. And out of those 3,352 days, I haven’t wanted to be back for a single one.

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  1. Patrick Stella says:

    Both Allyson’s blog and your response are interesting. I got out of print journalism almost 20 years ago now. I really didn’t give it much of a chance after I graduated college, but it is where I began. Today, public relations professionals outnumber journalists something like 8 to 1 according to the last PRSA stat I saw. With journalists leaving their profession and moving to “the dark side,” where does that leave journalism? And with fewer journalists, where does that leave PR professionals?

    • It leaves companies on the hunt for storytellers, who can help them self-publish and get the word out.

      Not ideal. But real.

  2. I like this: “I loved it too much. And it was going to ruin me.”

    This too: “I don’t think the Internet killed newspapers. Newspapers killed newspapers.”

    • Newspapers were a victim of their own entrenched success. Too much invested in what worked for so long. The Sunk Costs were staggering.

      They have lost the war for classifieds, and that was a huge chunk. They still have money coming in on real estate listings, but that is an anachronism that is about to dissolve. And the last pillar is their monopoly on Legal Notices. Once municipalities redefine what constitutes a Legal Notice for that community, then a very lucrative stream will evaporate overnight. Then is really is about banner ads, clicks, subscription and circulation.

  3. Geoff Hiten says:

    Smart Rats Leave First.

    That is actually the title of an IT training presentation I give at various speaking events, but it applies here as well. Knowing how and when to leave a job or even a career is essential to professional growth and development. One key point is it is far better for you to decide when to leave than for your employer to make that decision for you.

    • True, but this was less about leaving an employer, and more about leaving an entire industry that is permanently stuck on a negative trajectory. 😉