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Why journalists quit the profession? Commentary

By David Schick


David Schick

My “I quit traditional journalism” column.

I’ve dreaded writing it because I’m not convinced that anything I write here will add to the conversation. And who cares if I quit journalism?

Who am I, and why should you care what I think? Even if it’s all been said before, I think I’m writing this to explain—to myself—how I could love something one day, and not the next.

For clarity, when I say “traditional journalism,” I mean journalism produced by employees who are mostly chained to a desk, focused on typing up quantity to feed the beast.

It’s the type of journalism you’re most likely to see because it crosses your path during the day—talking heads in your home, a headline at a gas station, a subtle tone in your ear.

It dominates most other distributions because it’s been around longest and has had more opportunity to be repetitive.

But traditional journalism needs to turn itself around. If you need proof, ask yourself when was the last time you read something in your local paper, saw something on your local T.V. news station, or heard something on news radio that made you ask, “How is this news? Why is this news? What am I reading/watching/hearing on the ‘so-called’ news right now?!”

It’s not surprising why there’s more than one story out there about a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist quitting journalism because they can’t afford their rent or how journalism schools are “escalators to nowhere” or why entry-level journalists are being exploited to work over 60 hours a week.

No one respects the profession anymore, not even journalists, and no one has the ganas to fight for it.

To the people in the industry who’ve told me I need to “pick my battles,” you need to start battling.

You’ve given out too many inches—to public relations protocols, to government stonewalling, to advertising dictators—and now you’re being walked on for miles.

I realize a large majority of “traditional journalism” is basically marketing negative content, which writes itself and can be produced with little to no effort, but why are we the gossipers for the world? Who authorized this?!

All the traditional news does is deliver tragedy to your home, your heart, and your mind.

I’ll never forget covering my first crime scene. I arrived before the family. Their vehicle screeched to a stop at the crime scene tape and three doors flung wide open. The screams of sadness could be heard from the deceased’s relatives as they ran sobbing towards the lifeless body of their loved one.

There was a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and a previous restraining order against the boyfriend. She had only been in town for a couple of days to visit. She was shot and killed. He later shot himself. Not an uncommon story for this neighborhood.

I had just taken a photo of a large group of family and friends in a prayer circle outside the home. “You’re making it worse!” one of the family members yelled at me, and she was right.

I started to question the newsworthiness of murders. What details were important for the public to know? Which details violated someone’s privacy? For traditional media, it would appear the more personal, the better.

How often do you hear a news story that doesn’t make you cringe?

Imagine how many journalists spend their day waiting for tragedy to strike so they have something to report.

A sixth-grade student recently told me, “Journalism is sensationalism combined with bloodshed.” Bright kid. And he’s not wrong. As journalists, we’re trained to look for what’s wrong, not to look for what’s right.

In journalism school, you’re taught to be a bulldog.

You’re inspired to go after the tough stories. You’re told you to hold power accountable.

While traditional journalism thinks it has it all figured out with its code of ethics, it will let you destroy someone’s career on triple hearsay. Until you go after the wrong person, then it’s a problem and is swiftly shut down by the powers that be.

Unless you’re on your own, there’s no backbone in traditional journalism anymore.

Individuals don’t have the type of bankrolls and power that legacy media is slinging around—which appears to be dwindling. So what do you do? Why pick a career that barely supports its employees anymore?

I had more support to do real journalism as a student journalist. The Student Press Law Center referred me to a pro-bono attorney who went all the way to the Court of Appeals with me when I sued the state for violating transparency statutes. I fought the law and won.

When we stop looking for what’s wrong and do get to write about what’s right in the world, creativity seems to be restrained by style guides and editors who cut a line in your story because it’s too “hokey.”

I am posting the counseling statement I received on my last week at a local paper I worked for—and my response. To me, it’s another glaring example of why people don’t stick with traditional journalism these days.

Another publication I freelance for took me off a story for upsetting the public relations person at a school system. She was trying to dictate to whom I could and couldn’t speak with, and I wasn’t being “professional” when I made some generic tweets about dealing with PR people.

“We’ve made it clear to David that this is unacceptable to us. Unfortunately he seems to have let his frustration over not being able to speak to sources directly get the better of him.”

I don’t know a single reporter who wouldn’t complain or be frustrated over “not being able to speak to sources directly.”

How else are we supposed to write stories? And should we be spending our tax dollars on government employees who spend time sending screenshots of reporters’ tweets to their editors?

“The part of this story that alarms me is the editor taking you off the assignment,” Frank LoMonte, SPLC executive director, wrote in an email. “If the editor’s response to the PR person complaining is to take the story away from you, that gives the PR people exactly what they want—the ability to get the most aggressive, least docile reporters re-assigned.”

LoMonte continued:

“The idea of taxpayer-supported PR people acting as ‘mandatory gatekeepers’ to government employees ought to be against the law, period. If a government employee feels prepared to answer the question without the assistance of a PR person, then that’s always the quickest and most economical means.

Interjecting the PR person where she’s neither needed nor wanted serves no purpose other than ‘message control,’ which is never a valid use of taxpayer resources. Somehow we’ve gotten to accept this mentality that the government gets to spend taxpayer money on preserving a favorable image, which used to be understood to be ‘propaganda.’ This recent survey provides some data behind your anecdotal experience—access really is getting worse.”

My thoughts exactly, but I digress. Now I’m just ranting.

The biggest issue I take with traditional journalism is the illusion of objectivity. No journalist is objective, yet they are sent out into the world to report and are told to bring back just the facts. If our perspective is shaped by our cumulative experience, then the facts of individuals are subjective.

If traditional journalism is objective, then why does one person decide the front page?

Sure, you might have a team of editors discuss the most important story for the day. And those editors might get some input, but at the end of the day—someone decides what goes on the front page.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“As Hunter S. Thompson said,

‘So much for objective journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here—not under any by-line of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as objective journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.’
So, I’m done with it. I’m a writer, not a journalist. The difference is that I don’t pretend to know what it’s all about.”

Access to the truth is constantly obstructed by corporations, government, and editors By SPJ Georgia member David Schick Here it is.
My “I quit traditional journalism” column. I’ve dreaded writing …




June 2023

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