My son Christopher, a junior at DePaul University, has the scrivener’s gift. Already an award-winning non-fiction writer, he’s years ahead of where I was at his age. Yet I’d still rather have him pursue just about any career besides journalism. Yes, there’s some dark humor to that—but a tenebrous reality to match.
On Nov. 12, CNBC published a poll of the most regretted college majors, stemming from a ZipRecruiter survey of 1,500 job seekers who’d have picked a different major. Finishing on top of the pack by a landslide 15 percentage points: journalism at 87 percent.
As you can see from the table below, other writing majors don’t fare so hot, either. Communications (my grad school major) finished fourth (64 percent); English (my undergrad major) rounded out the top ten (52 percent). Do I have regrets? Ask my financial manager.
Still, I’m not certain the poll is airtight, as there’s no mention of the all-time loser among lamented college majors: Philosophy. True story: A recently minted PhD in philosophy once asked to meet me at a coffee shop so he could ask me about opportunities in … journalism. Call him Dr. Hopeless.
And yet, I can’t seem to shake the reporter’s calling any more than one can dump a hopelessly fickle lover or, perhaps truer to the sentiment, lance a massive goiter. Why? And if Christopher defies Dear Old Deadline Dad and makes tracks for the Fourth Estate, why would I ultimately support him?
Enter a BBC promotional video that moved this ink-stained wretch to near tears.
Why they do what they do (and perhaps you, too)
Somewhere among the hundreds of emails and LinkedIn missives I receive every day, I found a link to this BBC News video, “Trust Is Earned.” It’s based on the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which stem from its royal charter, and says more about journalism’s highest aims than I could possibly relate in this column — though I’ll do my best to add some meaningful context.
Reporters walk through battle sites in flack jackets — something I gather Sean Hannity is too frightened to do — intersperesed with reverse-type quotes such as “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right… validate evidence … corroborate claims … accuracy is more important than speed.”
I juxtapose this against the sight of fat, pampered politicians asserting that they know the truth and thus can dispute ironclad evidence. Can videos of reporters speeding past burning trucks in a battle zone be faked? I suppose so. But the deep layer of cynicism required to apply such an accusation again and again borders on the insane — and almost universally belongs to the realm of strongmen such as Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, or Kim Jong-un of North Korea: men who would gladly rationalize their war crimes, atrocities, bullying and election meddling.
“Witness events,” the video continues, as a warplane flies over a decimated, strafed village. “Gather information first-hand.” And: “Be reluctant to rely on a single source.” I suppose this would’ve been wise counsel for the QAnon faithful who bought into a conspiracy theory posited, without evidence but with one hell of a sci-fi storyline, by a lunatic ex-pat in a Philippines jungle.
The battle for hearts and minds, on two fronts
If I were still teaching college journalism, I’d make this BBC video required viewing for my students. On the one hand, I’m skeptical of any poll proffered by ZipRecruiter, which has worked diligently with a business school professor to figure out how to charge its clients top dollar. First and foremost, they’re in it for the money and polls like this always grab publicity.
Still, the tenor of the findings rings true to me. One by one by one I watched brilliant students, shining lights with rich careers in front of them, get discouraged and depart for the greener gra$$ of media relations, creating marketing copy for ROI-obsessed bosses, thankless office work and even, in one case, professional bodybuilding. (At least that career must be way fun if you can bench press 300 pounds.)
One the one hand, no journalism professor expects all or even most of their students to become a Jane or Johnny Deadline. That said, I saw many try and simply quit. When they asked themselves “What’s the downside?” the answers too often skewed depressing: long hours, shit pay, clueless editors, coal-shoveling deadline drudgery, office politics, greedy owners (hello Alden Capital), uncertain prospects.
And yet those who stick it out, I imagine, would resonate with “Trust Is Earned.” And we need these go-getters, more than ever. As a cub reporter covering the South Jersey suburbs, I saw what politicians did when papers cut back on suburban government coverage. It often went like this: Buy up lots of worthless land; convene a yawner of a sewer board meeting; get the land zoned for a sewer line extension; and watch the land value multiply ten-fold. When we’re not watching, when we’re not witnessing, when we’re not relating, other people get to tell lies or otherwise hide the truth.
If truth be told…
The fact is that human beings are wired for story, especially those that reek of intrigue, injustice and conspiracy. Whatever makes us angry. Jan. 6 was a false flag operation. Q is coming to keep Democrats from eating babies. Ukraine is being run by Nazis. COVID vaccines are made from dead fetuses. The election was stolen. Those acres of squalid, filthy homeless camps in San Francisco preserve human dignity. A man who hid two abortions out of extramarital affairs from voters now has a last-minute story about being redeemed, and evangelical Christians eat it up.
Anyone can tell a story. Far fewer can witness the truth. And if some of us would allow our reptile brains to be swayed by insidious forces — from confirmation bias to falling prey to sensational lies — there is at least the equal truth that no one can look away from a plane crash, or a village bombing: real events that testify to actual horrors.
Who would do the invaluable work of journalism, the Most Regretted Major of 2022? Maybe those who care about truth, bearing witness and inspiring trust above all. I can’t quantify that, though I suppose it would boil down to conducting my own poll of those carry the torch.
This much I know: Christopher has not yet caved to the call of journalism. My idealism, imposed on him, would probably reek of bad a B-movie soliloquy, light streaming in behind me from a shattered church window. But if he falls in love with it and if any collegiate hopefuls do, they’re exactly whom we need. Love is irrational, and it gets many a hopeful to keep their eyes fixed on the goal, all common sense to the contrary.
When I decided to take a fellowship at the Chicago Tribune in 1993 with only one year on staff guaranteed, my brother told me, “I think you’re making a big mistake.” Through a rational lens, he may have had a point. Had he bothered to gauge my passion, he’d have wished me well. He did not. Nearly 30 years later, I’m still in the Windy City, deadlining away (and he still knows everything, but that’s another story…).
Trust is earned. Here’s to those foolish and courageous enough to go out and earn it.
Lou Carlozo is the Editor and Publisher of Talking Biz News, and Qwoted’s Editor in Chief. All opinions expressed haven’t earned your trust, but he’ll gladly buy it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on LinkedIn.