I exhale as I make the purchase for my microphone, a Blue Snowball with a glossy black finish, complete with a pop filter. It’s just the thing I need to start recording videos, which I can now do easily on my powerful desktop computer, also a new purchase I made over the winter.
It’s hard to believe that only eight months ago I would feel guilty about making this purchase. The microphone is about sixty bucks, the pop filter another ten. Eight months ago, I would have shaken my head and moved on, thinking that one day when I magically had enough money, I could consider that purchase. Eight months ago, I was working three jobs, going to school full time, and relying on my parents’ help in order to make ends meet. In my senior year of college, I developed health problems that made the “traditional” cheap college diet of boiled eggs and ramen no longer a suitable option and was struggling to pay for food that fulfilled my dietary needs. The year before that, I had developed debilitating back problems. At night I would lie awake, terrified that I might do something to trigger my back pain again and needing to shell out another $400 for the physical therapy that would allow me to sit and bend over.
These are things that thankfully, I no longer worry so much about. I buy healthy meals with plenty of fruit and vegetables. I have my own used car which I expect to pay off this year, if I’m smart about my money. I’ve already paid off my student loans thanks to all the overtime I worked over the winter. I lived with my parents for a few months, which helped save money, and recently I moved in with my brother. I still pay rent, but probably not as much as other people. I pay my own bills on time. I’m saving up money for graduate school and I spend my nights building my portfolio for said graduate school.
To clarify, I never expected to go into journalism and be rolling in dough. I went into journalism because I loved telling stories that mattered to people; it’s why I continue to write and make videos now. But I didn’t anticipate that going into journalism literally meant that I would be unable to support myself. I, as someone who graduated Summa Cum Laude from my university and had a promising internship at a wonderful online publication (which paid me well, might I add), was offered a few producer jobs that would pay at most 11.75 or 12 an hour. At first, I was ecstatic—wow, they really believe in my abilities! —and I was so eager to start my new career, the one I dreamed of since I was little.
But then I began adding up the costs of moving to a new place, purchasing a used car (as getting to work requires a reliable method of transportation, and the places that I was hired didn’t have great public transit). Applying for housing requires application fees, security deposits and first-and-last-month’s rent, and I didn’t have any of these things. Not to mention that in six months, I would be expected to work towards paying off my student loans. Additionally, a lot of my personal possessions were in a decrepit state. My laptop’s screen is broken, buzzing, and runs as slow as molasses dripping down a tree. I needed new clothes, and the jobs I applied for didn’t offer clothing allowances like some other journalism jobs do. These were full time positions, but I would have to start working two or more jobs again just to meet my most basic needs.
So I did what was the hardest thing for me in the world. I pushed away from the career that I sought after since I was a child, and I moved in another direction.
To clarify, I’m in a very privileged position. I didn’t have that much in student loans in comparison to some of my classmates, a few of whom told me that they were over 20,000 in debt. My family helped me considerably through college and on top of that, I had a lot of scholarships that reduced the cost of my tuition. I also obtained my degree in only three years, thanks to all of my high school AP classes. That being said, I can’t imagine the paralyzing fear of being a recently graduated journalist who is in an immense amount of debt. I don’t believe that anyone should have to go to such lengths as I did in making ends meet, because I’ll be honest, pushing myself as hard as I did in college probably wasn’t healthy for me in the long run. Also, not everyone has parents or siblings that are willing and able to help them out.
As I mentioned, I don’t care so much about having excess wealth; just making enough to live. If any producer job had told me that I would make at least 30,000 a year, I would have gladly taken it without any worries whatsoever. Why is it that this industry demands that students have an expensive college education, and then offer us full time jobs that only pay $12 an hour? And to get a job that pays a decent living wage, requires 2 to 3 years of experience? Why is this considered acceptable in this industry? Journalists must know how to read, write, and edit; all are valuable skills which are needed in any field. Many journalists work with technology and applications that anyone else wouldn’t understand: complex video cameras, photo editing software, and social media programs. Some even know how to design and build websites. Certainly we’re not nuclear physicists or doctors, but do we really have to be in order to expect a living wage?
Now I work as a broker at a start-up that pays me for my labor, experience, and skillset; additionally, it offers me competitive benefits. When I was required to take additional courses in order to become a licensed broker, my company paid for my training. Finally, it felt like there was a reward for my effort to be a well-rounded, qualified candidate, and I could finally relax. Although my job can be stressful—I mean, we are talking about health insurance here—this stress is nothing compared to what I experienced in college, and likely nothing compared to what I would have experienced struggling to make ends meet while working at my dream job.
I’m not giving up on my dreams. I plan on going back to school in the future and will apply for a producing program, since I really want to pursue a career in television, be it in news or not. If grad school isn’t in the cards, I plan on saving up enough so that I can comfortably pursue what I love. So far, I don’t regret the direction that I’ve taken, although I do miss journalism immensely.
I just wish that there was more support for new journalists. I wish that the culture we had surrounding living wages and affordable living was more open minded and accepting. The attitude that I’ve encountered so far is that if I didn’t want to work at it, I must not want it enough. I wanted the job, absolutely. But more than that? I want to live.