Well, that didn’t last long

I started work at a rural non-daily newspaper on January 14. By March 15 I’d had enough and quit.

Pretty dramatic hey?

I went into the experience all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I truly believed that this would be the job to put me on the path to becoming a journalist. I’d do at least a year, put in the hard work, develop my skills and then find myself a journo job in Melbourne. After all, I knew that country papers can make careers. I’m not afraid of hard work. Nor am I afraid of getting out of my comfort zone. I thought I was focused enough and driven enough to be successful and to make this job work for me.

I was so wrong. I was so, so, so naive and idealistic.

It came as a huge shock when I discovered just how much influence advertising had over editorial. The head of advertising gives every new journo “the talk” and in it, he tells these new journos that they have to see every story, every interview, every person as an opportunity to sell advertising space in the paper. This is pretty much the opposite of what I very naively thought newspapers were about. After receiving said talk, I felt like I needed a shower.

Being a non-daily (the paper was published once a week on a Wednesday), I was the only journo working there. My editor was in Echuca, my mentor was in Benalla. I was on my own every day and had to make editorial decisions about what went in the paper and deciding the layout for each week. These are not tasks usually given to a cadet journalist, let alone one who had just graduated from her course.

But I figured I had enough life experience to be getting on with the job and my prior web design experience came in incredibly handy when it came to doing the layouts. Turns out spending time working out how web pages should fit together does have broader applications.

I lasted about a month before I decided to start looking for another job. I was exhausted, frazzled and contemplating going back on anti-depressants because I was so anxious. I dreaded my alarm going off each morning, I would wake up and feel sick to my stomach because of what I was about to put myself through.

I was being paid for 38 hours a week but realistically I was doing somewhere between 45 – 55 every week with no hope of being paid overtime (it says in their business documentation that they don’t pay overtime, employees get time in lieu instead but the manager/editor had to approve it so there was no guarantee of getting anything for the extra effort). My take-home pay was barely above minimum wage, so low that it was below the threshold to pay back my HECS debt. I had to work on the weekends because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have enough stories to fill the paper. It was like having a major assignment due every single week.

There was never enough time in the day and add to that I was travelling five hours to and from work each day…

I know it was my choice to take the job. I should’ve done my research, I should’ve asked around. I had no clue just how much of a sweat-shop country papers were, especially the little non-dailies which usually only have a single journo. I didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into. I didn’t realise I’d be responsible for the layout and that I would be making editorial decisions. I didn’t realise I’d have sole responsibility for an entire paper. Admittedly it was only 24 pages and I was responsible for just 15 of them. It sounded doable, it sounded like something I could achieve. And I was so very wrong.

It all started to go a bit pear-shaped when I decided to run a story and a page of photos about the opening of a new local brewery. As far as I was concerned, it was a good news story for the area and something that people would want to know about. The place had been project-managed and built by locals and you’d think it would be a natural fit for the paper. But no, the brewery hadn’t booked any ads and according to the head of advertising I should have put in a tiny story with one or no photos. However, he didn’t say anything to me directly about it. He just bitched to everyone else.

The straw the broke the camel’s back was finding out that Mr Head of Advertising had flat-out lied to my editor about me. He told my editor that I had refused to go out to a fire to cover it. Problem is that I had been to the CFA District 12 head office and talked to the incident controller and the comms person and they both said they weren’t taking media to the site and that if I went, I wouldn’t be allowed in. So I didn’t waste my time driving out there, especially when I knew there was only one way in and one way out so I was guaranteed to get stopped and turned around. Why would I waste my time? Especially considering it would’ve been 45 minute to hour long trip for nothing. Bit of a difference between respecting what the people in charge of fighting the fire had said and refusing to go out there don’t you think?

What really upset me was that my editor was so flippant about it. He really didn’t seem to care that another person had told him a lie about one of his staff members. He simply said that I was supposed to ignore what the CFA had said and go out there anyway. He would’ve known how angry I was but he was just so blase about it.

So that was it. For the first time in my life I quit a job without having one to go to. I have never done anything like this before. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve done but the strong sense of relief I felt walking out of that office for the last time simply reinforced that I’d made the right choice.

I could’ve easily titled this post how to make your toddler hate you in one easy step. One of the main reasons I had already started looking for another job was because of the effect it was having on Juno.

Juno doesn’t tell us she loves us but what she does say is that one of us is her best friend. I was pretty high in the best friend stakes for ages but as soon as I started this job, Daddy became her best friend and it stayed that way until recently. Even Grandma and Grandpa had turns at being her best friend but it was never me. It’s such a silly little thing but it hurt.

I didn’t know that Juno could recognise the letters in her name. I didn’t know she understood what numbers meant (at least up to five). I didn’t even know she’d succeeded in getting her shoes on and off by herself. So many little things that she’d mastered and I totally missed them because I was too focused on my stupid job. Two months isn’t a long time in the grand scale of things but when it comes to a toddler turning into a pre-schooler, it’s an eternity.

So now I’m left wondering what to do with myself. I really thought I wanted to be journalist but now I’m not so sure. The things I thought about journalism, the ideals I believed in got trashed in two months. I didn’t expect to told that I should take the paper’s advertising consultant with me to every interview I did and that I should look at every article as an opportunity to sell ad space. I didn’t think that’s what newspapers are about and what they were for. I didn’t realise I’d have to sell my soul to get ahead.

But I guess what it tells me is that I am moral person, I do have lines I won’t cross which I believe is a good thing.

I’m aware that what I experienced is nowhere near a normal cadet journalist experience. What makes it kinda worse is that I see awesome experiences my fellow students are having in their jobs. I wish I could have that experience but eh… there’s not much I can do about it now. I’ll find my way, I’ll find a job that’s right for me (and hopefully pays more than minimum wage).

One Thought on “Well, that didn’t last long

  1. Pingback: And then… | little words

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