During the second half of my sophomore year, I began to think I wasn’t cut out to be a journalist.
I don’t remember what month or even what day of the week it was — all I can recall now is the gray morning. The sun wasn’t shining when, as I do first thing every day, I rolled over to check my email on my phone. I was too tired, it was too early, and I already didn’t want to get out of bed.
My empty stomach began to churn when I read a heated message from a source lambasting us for something we’d gotten wrong in our reporting. I don’t remember what the story was, either — I only remember the way my whole body felt heavy as I shuffled to the shower. There, after a few minutes spent staring at the wall while hot water poured down my back, I cried.
I cried because I knew it was my responsibility to prevent things like this from happening (I was a section editor at the time). I cried because I knew it was going to be another one of those days that had more valleys than peaks; that this may be just the first fire I’d have to extinguish between then and the end of the day. I cried because I was utterly, profoundly exhausted.
More than anything else, however, those early-morning tears were the result of an overwhelming sense of inadequacy that had been weighing down on me for weeks. It didn’t take long after the semester began for me to feel like I was grossly unprepared for the job I was doing, but I was too proud to ask for help. Plus, I told myself, if I really was a good journalist, I wouldn’t be having these kinds of struggles anyway. If only I was as naturally gifted as this person or that person, I’d succeed regardless of the circumstances.
By the end of the semester, things got mostly better, so I ended up feeling happy with my work overall. My spirits were lifted further during a successful summer internship where, for the first time, someone told me they believed I could get a job in journalism after graduation if I wanted one. Still, I’m not sure I really believed him. The subconscious voices of self-doubt and self-pity lingered in the back of my mind, telling me that the spring semester had taught me if I wasn’t as good as the best people I knew, I wasn’t good enough to go anywhere worthwhile in this industry.
So when I returned to Berkeley for junior year, I began to set my postcollege sights on opportunities outside the media. I stuck with the Daily Cal, but the next summer I completed a nonjournalism internship. I took an LSAT prep course and started the process of applying for law school.
Now, it’s less than two weeks until general commencement, and I couldn’t imagine being anything other than a journalist. So what changed? Certainly not the stress levels: I’ve had to scream as loud as I could into my pillow or drink a profuse amount of wine to cope with some days this year. Nor did the industry suddenly figure out how to fix itself: The journalism-funding model remains generally fraught, and public confidence in the media is still disturbingly low.
Given all that, why the hell would I want to be a reporter? I could make so much more money doing something else with my degree — why not do that?
Part of it is definitely the confidence boost that comes with experience. After eight semesters and two summers working as a journalist, I’ve grown accustomed to criticism to the point where I like to think I actually embrace it. Tough reporting experiences, and the mistakes that often come with them, are like metaphorical wrinkles on my body: They affect me, they age me, but they are part of me. I learn from them. I don’t waste time feeling sorry for myself when the shit hits the fan; instead I breathe and try to remember, in the words of a former Daily Cal editor, that each new story is another chance for perfection.
Part of it is also passion. It’s the goosebumps that ran up and down my body when I heard panels of incredible journalists speak about their inspiring projects at an investigative reporting symposium recently. It’s the way my heart races when ridiculous news breaks, and the pride I feel when I look back at our coverage and know we did it well. It’s the anxiety that makes me nauseated when working on a big story, the righteous indignation that possesses me when we’re unfairly insulted and the deep camaraderie I have with my fellow Daily Cal’ers.
I choose journalism because I can’t resist its call. Despite all the bullshit that’s out there in the news media, I’ve seen that, in those rare instances in which we really do speak truth to power, we can have an impact. If everyone like me decides to do something else because it’s too hard or because we couldn’t scream louder than Fox News or TMZ, how can we ever hope the industry improves?
In the end, doing something else felt a lot to me like giving up. And I’m just not ready to do that.