A ‘Hard’ Question I’d Never Considered
Recently, on a car ride with a friend, a discussion sprung up about our respective jobs, which we hadn’t really discussed before. And she floored me with a very simple question:
“Is your job hard?”
I literally had to sit quietly and think about it for 15 seconds. Never had I considered whether broadcast journalism was difficult. But the question made me realize something important: the job is as difficult as we make it — and in some ways, the people who are best at it deliberately make it the most difficult.
To be sure, stories can be written/edited/created faster with practice, which makes the job easier. But there are portions that are meant to be harder.To wit:
- Instead of running a story with two sources, a reporter finds 3-4 and leaves the consumer with fewer questions
- Instead of taking “no comment” for an answer, a journalist tries to convey how important it is for a given source to be part of a story and (sometimes) gets that person’s opinions on tape.
- Rather than standing pat with the programming a news department has, staff members try to create more. This takes a lot more setup and behind-the-scenes work than they had been doing, but it makes the station better.
- Sometimes you have to fight for your ethics. If the general manager and sales manager of the public radio/TV station you work for come to you and tell you to do a story on Downton Abbey because your station is trying to get people to sign up for a Downtown Abbey-themed tour it’s having trouble filling and is about to lose money on, the right answer is some form of the following: “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MAGGIE SMITH-LOVING MIND?!” Also: this is a true story I’ve personally been witness to, only the reporter did the story.
Having the above argument is not fun or easy. It’s really hard. But it’s unquestionably the right thing to do.
Similarly, it’s important to realize broadcasters are semi-public figures. We’re not elected officials, but there is a chunk of the wider world that’s aware of us (and how we represent the media entities for which we work). So we get some of same sorts of criticism public figures get. That’s a tough part of the job.
And yet, it’s all something we consciously signed up for. For a broadcaster to say they were blindsided by any of the above is disingenuous at best. We knew what we were getting into and, in many cases, have been trained for at least some part of it.
So yeah, my job can be hard, but it’s worth doing right (like most jobs). I don’t think it’s the hardest job out there, by any means (or the easiest). But I do think journalists fall into a meaningful middle ground — and it’s only when we forsake that meaning to try to make the job unnecessarily easy that we lose sight of our purpose.