On #AdviceForYoungJournalists And The Oldest Tropes In The Book

On Monday, Fusion published journalist Felix Simon’s open letter to young journalists, titled “To All The Young Journalists Asking For Advice.” Many people were upset by this letter, as said advice was partially along the lines of “Want to get into journalism? DON’T.”

I’m sure that many people have told you this already, but take it from me as well: journalism is a dumb career move. If there’s something else you also love, something else you’re good at, something else which makes the world a better place — then maybe you should think about doing that instead. Even successful journalists rarely do much of the kind of high-minded stuff you probably aspire to. And enormous numbers of incredibly talented journalists find it almost impossible to make a decent living at this game.

I think it was pretty “meh” as far as essays go. Personally, I was neither particularly upset by it or terribly surprised. I mean, I’m sorry, but “Don’t go into journalism” is practically as much of a trope as “Don’t go to law school” at this point. However, some people took a good deal of offense to the essay, suggesting that it was wrong of him to not “encourage” them or give them specific tips on how to actually get a career in journalism. Possibly because he was afraid of all the young people coming for his job and wanted to horde all the journalism to himself, or something.

This then turned into the #AdviceForYoungJournalists hashtag on Twitter–which naturally devolved into mostly fake advice, as is the way of Twitter.

I’m gonna be frank with you here. If you are sincerely upset by an old journo saying “Don’t get into journalism,” which is a thing that has been said probably since the dawn of journalism (along with the prediction of “the death of journalism”), this might not be the career for you. If you need piles of encouragement and deal poorly with rejection–you might not like it here. If this article “discourages” you, then you have no business being here in the first place. This is where we separate the wheat from the chaff.

Because you know what? Writing involves a fuck-ton of rejection. From publications, from editors, from sources, from people on the damned internet. Thus, it involves a certain type of personality that is not too bothered by rejection–or is, rather, spurred on by it. If you can’t deal with that, then perhaps you ought to limit your writing to your own dream journal. If you want to feel special and encouraged, go watch an episode of “Barney The Big Purple Dinosaur.”

If this is something you really want, your reaction to essays like this shouldn’t be “They’re just scared of all us cool young kids stealing their jobs!” or “It would be better if he gave us REAL advice and encouraged us rather than smiting all our DREAMS.” It should be “Fuck that guy. I’m doing this.” You also have to kind of want to do it enough that you don’t care that — unless you have a “sponsor” — you’re probably not going to make windfalls of cash and lead a totally normal life. At least not at first.

Also, unless you are a Real Housewife, the answer to all your life’s quagmires is probably not “They’re just jealous.”

The only piece of advice I contributed to the #AdviceForYoungJournalists hashtag was “Don’t bitch on social media about some place having the utter gall to not publish you.” I mean this sincerely because I see it all the time. People calling out places for not publishing them, or for publishing someone else instead of them and demanding an answer as to why. People complaining that they aren’t being personally approached to write things when they’re not even pitching. This sort of behavior tends to get a lot of positive feedback on Twitter, but trust, it is not a good look.

I mean, first of all, it does not give editors of any other publication the idea that you are a joy to work with. Second, the latter is not even usually how things work. At all. Talented though you may be, you are not goddamned Lana Turner sipping a soda at Schwab’s Drug Store. If you want to be published, you have to pitch. Everyone is way too busy, for the most part, doing their own work to also be talent scouts. Generally speaking, when a publication takes on freelancers, it is to make their lives easier, not harder.

I do have other advice though, when people ask me–for god knows what reason–how they can get into doing what I do for a living. My answer, usually, is “Write, Pitch, Hustle.” Hustling and pitching is how you’ll get jobs, actually being good at writing is how you’ll keep them. You don’t ask, you don’t get. You’re not good, you don’t keep. No one gives a fuck about your hopes and your dreams.