“Loss and destruction has been almost all that I’ve ever known in journalism. . . For now, journalism is just beginning its trek underground, searching for a ray of light and fresh air. I needed a break from that long, dark trek. Will I ever return? I don’t know. I’ve stopped worrying about what the future will hold for me.”
Patrick Thornton, the “Journalism Iconoclast,” is bidding farewell to the profession of journalism after only three years. The reasons are understandable — he’s gotten a job with a conservation social network, and congratulations are in order. Given the poor job prospects in so many fields, he’s wise to take what he can get and not to look back.
But I’d like to offer some perspective from an old print hack in response to the angst expressed by someone so young:
• “Loss and destruction” were staples of this business even in better times. Poorly managed newspapers got away with this for decades because their advertising-based business model was still intact. Far too often, I watched many colleagues walk out the door when we were still young, frustrated they could not make a living (I will not tell you how embarrassingly low my salaries were for the first decade or so of my career).
Some had their instincts and drive thwarted by newsroom bureaucrats who hadn’t pounded the pavement in years. These idealistic reporters intent on “making the world a better place” came to hate journalism during the heyday of print and network TV news, distraught that their employers were raking in profits and had the resources to do better.
• There have never been any guarantees that I would avoid a similar fate. It wasn’t until I was 15 years into my career that I could finally say I had known “prosperity in journalism,” after toiling at weeklies and small dailies. I’ve worked for a newspaper that no longer exists, and in between jobs I strung together non-journalistic part-time work and freelanced to pay the bills. When I had enough extra money to max out on my 401(k) contributions, I thought I had hit the jackpot. That period hadn’t lasted very long when I took my newspaper buyout last year.
I don’t begrudge anyone’s decision to find work that’s more stable and will offer peace of mind. And I’m sad that some aspiring young journalists are facing horrendous career odds during this chaotic time. However, I know many former journalists who have made similar choices over the years, often reluctantly and with great anguish. This reality existed long before the bottom dropped out of the newspaper industry. Just not on this scale.
I’m not sure what Thornton was expecting three years ago, but I wish him the best in his new endeavors.
He just wasn’t in the business long enough to know how badly it can break your heart.