am writing, breaking news, career choices, career path, choices, ethics, final tweets, foreign policy, Fourth Estate, free press, freelance, freelancing, informed public, journalism, Journalism and Political Science, journalist, life, looking back, media, mohammed chatah, newspaper, newsroom, personal reflection, post-college, press, professional, reporter, the journalist I could've been, Twitter, watchdog, writer, writing, Writing Life
I haven’t set foot in a newsroom in years. These days, I research my foreign policy articles at Starbucks while sipping on chai. I studied Journalism and Political Science in college and served for a time as the Opinion Editor of the campus newspaper — not exactly on the front lines of breaking news.
I don’t know if I chose that major because I had any serious intention of becoming a professional journalist. I loved to tell stories, loved to write and was drawn to the field’s ideals. Information is vital to a democracy and a good newspaper did its part to educate the public. Journalism always seemed worthwhile.
But unfortunately, I decided to become a reporter at the height of the recession. Newspapers all over the country were shutting their doors. The daily broadsheet was being supplanted by left-wing and right-wing cable news that offered more commentary than fact. I was told very early on in my education that I shouldn’t expect to get a job at a paper.
So, I got a marketing job to pay the bills and never looked back. Well, almost never looked back. Sometimes, I would find myself rewriting the headlines on CNN or imagining how I would have approach a New York Times article from a different angle.
I quietly embarked on a career in marketing and public relations. I was working for a nonprofit, so it wasn’t like I had sold out my ideals. And when one of my old professors sent me an email about a part-time reporting job with the local paper covering the education beat and offered to put in a good word with the editor, I politely turned it down.
Two years later, I’m still haunted by that decision. In fairness, the position probably wouldn’t have led to anything. Newspapers are still hemorrhaging employees. Even veteran journos are getting cut left and right. But there are times when I wish I had taken the chance.
I got a freelance job a few months ago — just a side gig — writing articles on U.S. foreign policy topics. It isn’t hard-hitting journalism. I’m no Bob Woodward, but during the research process for a piece covering an assassination in central Beirut, I managed to unearth a tiny bit of news that had eluded the press. Mohammed Chatah had tweeted a jab at his political foes within minutes of his death, while major news sources were pinning his final message hours earlier. It was a small detail, but one that changed the story.
Major news outlets put @mohamad_chatah‘s last tweet hours before his death. It was really at 7:08 UTC, within minutes of blast. Incredible.
— Jonny Eberle (@jonnyeberle) December 27, 2013
I’m not about to win any Pulitzers for my reporting, but to me it was a little victory. For a few shining moments, I felt like a real journalist; the reporter I had set out to become years ago. I may never work in a bustling newsroom, conducting interviews and breaking stories. Even so, if I can use what I learned in J-school to inform the public, even if it is on Twitter, I can catch a glimpse of what my life might’ve been like if I had pursued a newspaper career. And I think I can live with that.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA and a graduate of the prestigious journalism department at Northern Arizona University. You can read his foreign policy writing on Grey Cell and follow him on Twitter.