View From Somewhere Else

posted in: Uncategorized | 68

In an odd twist of fate, it was my turn at work to write the rotating column for Friday – my last day at work. Despite the fact that I submitted it on time, the folks at the newspaper decided not to run my article. I’m both proud and sad that my official goodbye wasn’t fit for print. The pictures weren’t part of what I submitted, but they should’ve been.

If you’re reading this, I’m already gone. If you’re not reading this, I’m still gone, but I’m also offended you didn’t find my column to be worth your time. Thanks a lot, jerk.

Friday was my last day as a reporter, and it also happened to be the deadline for this article. I am now a former journalist, a designation held by many prestigious figures at local homeless shelters and brothels. Journalism is one of those fields you enter when you think you can make the world a better place and leave when you realize you can make your own world better simply by getting a different job. In terms of the raw altruism required, working for a newspaper is kind of like doing a stint in the Peace Corps, only the hours are worse and everybody hates you.

Part of the morale problem at work might be related to the less-than-cheerful scenery surrounding the employee entrance. Most of Schindler’s List was actually filmed in this alley.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I decided to be a reporter. When it comes to making major life choices, the sheer selfishness of my decision-making process is admirably consistent. I suspect I chose that field because I can’t work with my hands and I’m bad at math. That limited my realistic job opportunities to journalism and kickboxing. I went for the one with the better 401(k) plan, but unfortunately there weren’t any kickboxing leagues hiring at the time.

I didn’t take many flying kicks to the head in my time as a reporter, but I did occasionally have to learn, which was just as painful. One of the first bits of knowledge I acquired was that reporters are people, too. They just happen to be wicked, twisted people full of biases and secret agendas. I didn’t understand this until it was carefully explained to me on a daily basis by e-mails from angry readers. In my one year as a full-time journalist, I was accused of being a liberal, conservative, smoking proponent, smoking opponent, hog farm fan, anti-hog farm zealot and incredibly handsome human being. I never actually received an e-mail about the last one, but statistically speaking one or more readers had to be thinking it. I’m less ugly in real life than I appear in the picture at the top of this column, if only marginally.

Lots of readers claimed to understand the hidden workings of my sinister mind, but the sad truth is that there’s not a whole lot going on up there. At most public meetings I was more concerned about locating the free cookies and punch than I was about choosing whether to side with those who think we should ban smoking altogether and those who believe we should give cigarettes to children. Those opinions that I do hold are disappointingly moderate. That controversial development they’re planning for a site near your home might not save your town, but it likely won’t kill your children either. The obvious exception to that is the child-killing plant they’re planning to build on U.S. 52. You haven’t heard about it yet because newspapers are covering it up as part of the highly-coordinated media conspiracy.
Even I can’t read my own handwriting, so I just scribble nonsensically when talking to sources and make up what I want them to say later. There’s a reason we were the only newspaper to quote a major presidential candidate as saying, “I’ll beat this recession as hard as I beat my wife.”
To the surprise of some readers, one issue that’s not covered in the monthly media conspiracy newsletter is how to cram as much bad news as possible into each print edition. We don’t seek out bad news, but we do cover a lot of breaking news. Breaking news just happens to be almost exclusively bad simply because good news is seldom sudden. I’ve covered lots of late night crashes that resulted in fatalities, but I’ve covered very few that resulted in puppies. Maybe there is such a thing as good breaking news, and maybe horrible vehicular collisions really can result in cute, cuddly animals. They don’t teach you that stuff until your second year in journalism, so I’ll probably never know.
The local desk had exactly one more reporter than trashcan, and I somehow always ended up losing the daily games of musical garbage bin. That’s why my final act as a reporter was to steal every trashcan in the newsroom. It will be days before the local desk recovers from the mayhem I caused.

This is the point where I should plead for readers to treat reporters decently, but I haven’t helped anybody with my articles in the past 12 months and it seems kind of misguided to try to start now. Writing, like any drug, is best enjoyed when done recreationally. I’ll continue to update my Web site, but I don’t have any plans to write professionally in the future. It’s time for me to grow up and focus on a more traditional career path, like professional kickboxing.

James Breakwell is currently trying to get his big break on the Midwestern kickboxing circuit. He can be reached at dontcontactme@gmail.com.

James would have finished this article sooner, but he was too busy conspiring against you and everyone you love.

68 Responses

  1. You are a master of tone. If I could get my essays to come across like your writing, I might get yelled at less for insulting my professors.

  2. Anonymous

    You, sir, are a past-master at reducing bridges to twenty-foot belching gales of flame – I salute you!

  3. You make me proud to be a journalism major, sir.

  4. Bless you, man… I am you (sort of). I started into my second year a month ago. No car crashes or hog farms for me, but some pissed off guitar players, junkies and publicists.Best of luck with the kickboxing. My back-up is Mexican Wrestling.

  5. Anonymous

    Truly awesome. Thank you sir. I will now be slightly nicer to my journalist sister.

  6. Not surprising that they didn’t run it. As my brother is fond of saying, “Honesty doesn’t pay.”I will be forwarding this to a journalism major who’s graduating in June. I hope he enjoys reading this as much as I did.

  7. Awesome. Welcome out of journoslavery. The air is a lot cleaner here.

  8. Anonymous

    Anonymous: You needn’t be nicer to your sister; she likes it rough. Believe me.

  9. Anonymous

    Congrats on your escape. The thing that surprised me most about being a journalist was how many people I met socially thought my job justified complete and utter rudeness on their part. I never said anything like, “Oh, so you’re a heartless, souless banker, huh?” Now I’m a lawyer, and the rudeness is about the same, but the pay is much better. Check it out if kickboxing fails.

  10. Anonymous

    As a 10 year newspaper vet, Nicely done. No matter if you’re in it for 1 year or 10 years, the crap from the public keeps coming.

  11. Anonymous

    This gave me the best laugh I’ve had in days. I, too, salute you. And I promise to be more civil towards reporters, but since that won’t do you any good, I wish you the best of luck having your ass handed to you in kickboxing.

  12. Brilliant! And isn’t it ironic that now you are gone you can write the good stuff like this?

  13. Congrats on escaping! It’s amazing how much I don’t miss joutnalism.

  14. No surprise the paper didn’t run it, but a great read nonethless.I’ve been in journalism for 15 years, so I know what you’re feeling. It’s amazing how many times I write a column that leads to me being accused of being part of the media bias. I’m usually just trying to crank out the 600-700 words on deadline. I don’t have time for an agenda, hidden or not.

  15. Having been out of the business for a year now, I can certainly relate to this. What sucks, though, is how people STILL approach talking to me with caution, thinking, I guess, that I’m somehow taking notes about the mundane matter they have to dicsuss.

  16. I left the business butt-first two years ago (on April Fools Day, no less) and haven’t looked back. I still have feelings of peace and happiness whenever I drive past the two paper offices where I used to work, thinking, I’m glad I don’t work there any more. I enjoy the fact I can hear an ambulance siren without knowing some moron (inside the newsroom or outside on the street) is going to wonder why I’m not chasing it — or (for the case of those outside) call me a ghoul when they seem we walking outside with that notebook and pencil. I enjoy the fact I’m no longer called, to my face and behind my face, a liar and a manipulator and a jackass by people who are, well, liars, manipulators and jackasses. Ah, the bliss of technical writing. Boring as hell, but it pays better.

  17. Anonymous

    wow .. all my thoughts about journalism summed up in one article. i work in television news. take every rude comment ever made to you and multiply it by ten and you have a sense of the enjoyment i get out of my job. that’s why i’m leaving too. i wish i’d written this.

  18. Ioannes Magnumus

    It sounds as if your former employers were the confluence of two rivers of shit

  19. Anonymous

    Well said! And now I understand why my college graduate son with a major in journalism would rather to run a bar rather than ply your now former trade.

  20. Anonymous

    i got linked to this off of fark – as an employed writer i’d like to offer an invitation to co-author a script about this. it’s very funny. call me 310-621-5757

  21. I learned Journalism the old fashioned way, getting a stringer photographer job for the local daily at 16. Still miss it, but the pay as an IT professional makes life so much easier. This piece was absolutely bloody brilliant.

  22. Anonymous

    So, Is there a job open at your old paper? I would deal with it to get paid to write. It can’t be any worse than teaching high school, which I’ve also done, and would never recommend.

  23. Anonymous

    Nice one. This is how I feel — almost exactly — after suffering through 10 years in journalism and finally making my exit. (Starvation is my current occupation, and I must say I am enjoying it much more than I did covering meetings of the local housing authority.)Alas. If only we could tell everyone in the world — all teenagers, all college journalism majors, anyone at all who has ever aspired to be a reporter — that it’s the best and fastest route to the poorhouse and the loony bin.

  24. Anonymous

    All I ever wanted to learn about newspapers, I learned from ben folds. http://www.elyrics.net/read/b/ben-folds-lyrics/fred-jones-pt-2-lyrics.html

  25. Anonymous

    it’s too bad you hated your job so much.for what it’s worth, i hate reporters. on the whole, you are lazy and undereducated. you also whine too much when you’re not deliberately misinforming the public.congrats on escaping.(to the guy that whined about people being rude to him: maybe you should do a better job and stop whining so much. did you ever stop to think that people might be angry about the firehose of BS that is print/TV media nowadays? obviously you didn’t make it that way, but jeez. it obviously sucks. get off your cross about it already.)

  26. You know- I wish _I_ had a friend who would attend those eternally long civic meetings and summarize them so I could stay at work or home and carry on with a normal lif..oh HEY! THAT’S what our local journalists do!! And I can get a copy for 50 cents!I’m sorry you had to weather so much crap. Good journalists are part of the crumbling foundation that makes this semi-democracy possible and deserve way more respect than a lot of people (and media outlets) give them. Like Teachers, and social workers….and all the other people who are paid way too little to stand between civilization and entropy. I hope you find something that will feed both your soul and your 401k.And helluva way to go!

  27. Chad McFuckstick

    To anonymous who posted at 4/16 @2:24 p.m. — you’re the type of ass-monkey who makes the job worthless in the first place. Spare everyone your generalizations about reporters, OK? I’ve known quite a few — some good, some not good — but people like you couldn’t come close to doing the job they have to, day in and day out. Now go back to working the counter at Blockbuster.

  28. Anonymous

    Um, how “undereducated” does one have to be to make between $25,000-$35,000 a year, the standard print journalist salary?

  29. Anonymous

    Reporters only make 25-35K a year??I was wondering why so many of them were a bunch of no-account, liberally biased, incompetent, whining jackasses, and now it all makes sense.BTW, that article was very whiney. Suck it up, crybaby. You’re outta there not because you’re a victim. It’s because you suck, and they were paying you to just be kind of crappy. You went too far.

  30. Anonymous

    Matt Wixon Said:“I’m usually just trying to crank out the 600-700 words on deadline. I don’t have time for an agenda, hidden or not.”I think the above paragraph emcapsulates why readers have come to despise journalists so.Matt’s job is not only to meet deadlines, it’s to do so while eliminating the angle of a personal agenda, hidden or not.Despite journalists like Matt’s lack of awareness, this is why journalism has been reduced to partisan manipulation. This is why your readership speaks of you with disdain. This is why you fail. This sorry fact remains, even if the author of this piece gets up, brushes the dirt off his pants, and says “I meant to do that.”

  31. Well played, sir. You remind me of my best friend in high school. We both wanted to be reporters, and went to different colleges. He decided journalism wasn’t for him because he didn’t like sticking to the facts. Since then, he’s published two novels and two books of short stories. May you find similar success.(Me, I’m a lifer.)

  32. “Lots of readers claimed to understand the hidden workings of my sinister mind, but the sad truth is that there’s not a whole lot going on up there.”You have no idea how often I’ve wanted to tell someone this (or that I have and have been thought a craft smartass by a reader. Oh, if only.)After 14 years as a reporter, a freelancer, an editor, and a stepping stool, I can honestly say I never “dreamed” of becoming a journalist – it was what I did right out of college so I wouldn’t have to stay on at Taco Hell. (Come to think, the Taco probably paid better than the first 2-3 years of my first writing job.) I never thought I was going to win any Pulitzers; I just wanted to make what crap I had to write as interesting as I could (well, most weeks). It’s how I’ve gotten along. *shrug*Anyway, good luck!

  33. Anonymous

    Very enjoyable read! You haven’t quite convinced me to abandon my dream of becoming a world-changing journo, but you came pretty close :). Good luck with your future endeavours!

  34. Cry more, n00b?

  35. High-larious, thankyou. I’m still thankful for the warm, womb-like environment of my student newspaper. Good luck out there – it’s a shame to have lost such a clearly talented columnist.

  36. I,too,could not work with my hands and was bad at math. Lacking your wisdom,I chose Literature as a major. The career options that lay before me were “bibliophile” and“Mommy” (subcategory “bartender”).I was lucky enough to secure a position in both fields. After nearly 15 years, I am ready for a career switch.Congratulations on your escape.

  37. LOLI’m sorry to laugh at your misery but you asked for it when you posted the link on WD!Being a Reporter must be brutal when you can’t read your own handwriting. Keep writing, though(with the help of a computer)and to hell with that newspaper!

  38. Anonymous

    As a television report for ten years, I can say I enjoyed this article. It was genuine and amusing. As a reporter, I know I’m hated, despised, and stereotyped—but that just comes with the territory. I’ve interviewed presidents, traveled, and have seen things that the “average-joe” will never get to see in person. Now as an investigative reporter, I’ve uncovered problems that have prompted the local government where I live to enact/enforce laws for the betterment of my community. In reality, I think most people really hate reporters, not because they are “undereducated” according to one poster, or “biased” or whatever….I really think people are jealous. They secretly wish they had tenacity and the will to the job—but they can’t. Now back to my deadline….Nice blog post. I enjoyed it.

  39. Your attitude is bewitching =]I have to write a valedictory speech.. any advice?

  40. Anonymous

    Seriously. Great job. As someone who got laid off from a newspaper today, that was an awesome read.

  41. Anonymous

    This is a great piece of writing, it’s too bad you couldn’t work the editorial side of journalism. It’s too bad so many people are taken by the media world who are good writers but simply don’t want to deal with the constant scrutiny from everyone who isn’t reporting the news – sometimes it makes me want to steer in a direction aside from journalism. And I haven’t even graduated yet! Perhaps kick-boxing really IS the way to go in life.

  42. Anonymous

    Solid. Darn solid.

  43. I slaved away in the newspaper business for three years and I fully agree with everything you said. Life is much better on the other side–that other side being a place where you’re home by 6 p.m., actually can save for retirement and aren’t harassed daily by old people, stay-at-home moms and disgruntled war vets who have nothing better to do than call you under the guise of “discussing” some article you wrote, instead that their actual goal is to complain to you about anything and everything.

  44. Well done, sir, well done. I’ve been in newspapers for more than 20 years now, the last few of which have been spent watching the industry circle the bowl. I used to collect items like this: resignation letters from my peers, final columns, etc., but it has become far too common and too depressing. When my children were very young, my wife would bring them into the newspaper so that we could eat supper together. I would give them money to buy something from the vending machines. An old pressman talked to me about that. “Don’t buy them candy and sodas when they come in here. You don’t want them to associate good stuff and newspapers. Every time they walk through the door, take your belt off and beat their ass good. Anything to keep them from thinking that newspapers are fun.” You’re getting out of the business at the right time. Congratulations.

  45. Reporters are too disorganized, too busy, and too powerless to have an agenda. The public should realize this. Only publishers and editors are allowed to have agendas.

  46. i think i’m in love with you. move to australia so we can have babies.

  47. Anonymous

    You know you’re going to miss every trash can and whining councilman, unreasonable deadline and inch count, tyrannical editor and ruthless reader, the sarcasm ping pong with colleagues and the delight in exercising your considerable writing talents daily, not to mention the way your computer keyboard feels when your fingers fly over it. It’s crack. You can smell it now, can’t you? But we’re not going to let you back in.

  48. See Please < HREF="http://ajrsc.com/" REL="nofollow">Here<>

  49. Anonymous

    that line about the child-killing factory is hilarious…you have a future somewhere (jon stewart? colbert?), just not on the sinking ship SS Journalism. Consider yourself lucky.

  50. Anonymous

    You quit because you didn’t like the public’s reaction to your work?With all the reasons to leave journalism after a year — lousy pay, long hours, crummy management, living in a small town in the middle of nowhere, covering boring meetings — being yelled at by readers is what drove you away?Wow. That’s just … weird. I was a reporter for 25 years — and a music critic for eight of those (1990-98). I have a file about eight inches thick of letters from readers, most of whom found colorful ways to tell me what a moron I am. My reaction: So what? I’ve engaged them. They’re reading my work. They took it seriously enough to find a crayon and a piece of paper and a stamp and an envelope. Some of them even learned how to write, just so they could slag me.That’s a beautiful thing. Too bad you couldn’t find joy in that. A good editor/mentor might have helped too, but journalism rarely has time for such things. You’re a good writer, Chuck — there are some really funny lines in the piece. But I hate to break it to you: Unless you get a job as a hermit, there’s always someone, somewhere, who’s going to be criticizing your work.

  51. Very funny, but shouldn’t you be writing about this instead?http://jnnp.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/52/7/907

  52. opps: trying to repost that link from previous comment< HREF="http://jnnp.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/52/7/907" REL="nofollow">TRY THIS<>

  53. Anonymous

    kickboxing IS the sport of the future…

  54. Anonymous

    Some of us do change the world through reporting, one story or column at a time, and even do so with God’s help, believe it or not. (Wish He’d figure out a way to up the pay, though.)Maybe I’ve just been fortunate in my 20-some years of reporting, but I’ve gotten to do challenging stories (for me, especially trying to understand budget stuff,) uplifting stories through which I’ve met some amazing people, and some very personal stuff this last year as I dealt with breast cancer. Sure, there’s been some controversy, some nasty mail and rarely, a phone call, but far more often I’ve been told, personally, that a story or a column I’ve written has made a difference in someone’s life. And that’s what I’m here for, in journalism, in life. I hope you will find such a calling, Chuck. You have the talent.

  55. Anonymous

    What a pompous-ass copout.Evidently, “reporter” spent far too much time worrying about what people thought of him rather than thinking on his own. “Oh, dear. People are forming opinions of me. Whatever shall I do?”What self-serving drivel, and a keen example of how the deadwood are in fact weeded out of the profession.As for kickboxing, don’t you need a thick skin for that, too?Why not try something easier. Practice these words, perhaps: “Would you like fries with that?”

  56. Anonymous

    Love the article if not the attitude. Dark humor is key, and unfortunately the average Joe and Joan love to pelt you with their version, which is quite typically much whinier and less educated than your own POV. Negativity plays and feeds upon itself and we can choose to wallow or develop rhino skin. I choose the skin. With lots of lotion. That way, when I bend over, it won’t hurt quite as bad.

  57. Anonymous

    why not do yourself a favor: the less you write, the better off everyone will be.

  58. Anonymous

    Gee, I thought I was the only one with friends clueless enough to berate my profession in front of me, while I never criticize theirs. I love journalism, all of it (except for writing artlines), and in the course of many years have tangled with judges, sheriffs and others without problems. The ones I really feared were the band boosters and the lady who provided the hospital tray favor schedule. Those people were NASTY!

  59. This comment has been removed by the author.

  60. e.price

    I, like so many before me, was recently introduced to your blog and subsequently wasted at least 1/2 of my day pretending to do work. I think though, that my outbursts of laughter may have given me away. I am hooked. I wish I had your talent. I look forward to more.PS- I am also an English major. The MA is even more worthless than the BA!

  61. If writing is the dream, reporting is the nightmare. I think I’m gonna quit and do PR.

  62. This is spot-on and hilarious. The grim truth is the best kind of comedy.Those anonymous readers ripping you are exactly the kind of people it’s so fun to irritate. I’ve been in the biz nearly two decades, and the hate mail used to really piss me off. Now it’s a source of cheer to me. I was once threatened with a libel suit for a feature I wrote! It was about a home-health nurse, and I mentioned that she sometimes told her invalid clients dirty jokes. I thought it added a warm, human touch. She had a decidedly different opinion. She was so mortified, she had to have another nurse call to tell me they were going to SUE my ass.Whatever. I still like telling that story to my colleagues while we get righteously drunk once we’re off the floor. That stereotype, like so many others linked to journalism, is deeply rooted in reality. Now I’m on the copy desk and write heds. I suppose with superhuman effort, I could find something I give enough of a damn about to pursue an agenda. Hmm … naw.

  63. Wow, so many good responses.<>“for what it’s worth, i hate reporters. on the whole, you are lazy and undereducated.”<>Lazy, sure — some of us. Undereducated in a formal sense, perhaps. But actually, I always found reporters on average to be among the smarter people — much smarter, generally, than the politicians, lawyers, cops and businessmen we write about.<>“I think the above paragraph emcapsulates why readers have come to despise journalists so.“Matt’s job is not only to meet deadlines, it’s to do so while eliminating the angle of a personal agenda, hidden or not.“Despite journalists like Matt’s lack of awareness, this is why journalism has been reduced to partisan manipulation. This is why your readership speaks of you with disdain. This is why you fail.“This sorry fact remains, even if the author of this piece gets up, brushes the dirt off his pants, and says ‘I meant to do that.’ “<>This post makes no sense. Just thought I’d point that out.<>“Reporters are too disorganized, too busy, and too powerless to have an agenda. The public should realize this. Only publishers and editors are allowed to have agendas.”<>This one does make sense.<>“Good journalists are part of the crumbling foundation that makes this semi-democracy possible and deserve way more respect than a lot of people (and media outlets) give them. Like Teachers, and social workers….and all the other people who are paid way too little to stand between civilization and entropy.”<>Hey, I can be as cynical as anyone, and Chuck’s piece was hilarious, biting and even a little touching. But what Susan writes here is still true. Thank you.

  64. I thought the article was excellent about a vocation that IS underappreciated FOR MOST journalists. There probably are some who are lazy, just like there are probably some doctors, lawyers, butchers, phamacists, telemarketers, and kickboxers who are lazy. Anybody who tries to generalize across a vocation is being inherently unfair by painting all with a rather broad brush.

  65. I’m sorry…I forgot to add that the reason readers hate their reporters is because, while they all CLAIM to want objectivity, they really don’t want that at all. They want EVERY article to back their worldview and support their candidates of choice. In some contexts, wouldn’t most of us agree that “balance” is an insane way of making two things seem equal when they clearly aren’t? Take cigarette smoking. We had thousands of health researchers, doctors, and scientists who said it was (a) cancer causing; and (b) addictive. BUT we also have a few working at each tobacco company who said it wasn’t. “Balance” would require that every story on a study would have a quote from R&J saying, “That’s not what we’ve found.” And as a result, people would not stop because they would say, “See!?!? Some say yes, some say no. Pass my smokes!” OR, here’s another good one – global warming. Every story needs to quote the five scientists who believe it’s “not real.” Now you’ll have people like Limbaugh saying, “Some say yes, some say no. It’s inconclusive! Screw the hybrid. I’m buying a nine miles per gallon Hummer!”

  66. Damn shame you opted out! You can write.bd