Why I’m reluctant to call myself a journalist
I’m a writer. At least that’s what I say whenever I’m asked what I do for work.
“You author books?” usually comes next. “No,” I reply. “I write magazine articles—mostly for websites, newspapers, and companies.”
In truth, I’ve never liked my answer. It’s vague, understated, and usually leads to more questions. But I’ve given it for so long that it’s become second nature.
Technically speaking, I should answer with “journalist,” someone who researches, interviews, writes, fact-checks, edits, and reports “news,” which varies by definition depending on who you’re trying to update. Or as dictionary.com describes my profession, “writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition best exemplified by topical newspaper or popular magazine writing.”
In other words, journalists don’t always have the luxury of time. We’re forced to publish our findings in unfinished chucks while the dust still settles. Although I sometimes identify as a journalist in formal settings or designations, I don’t feel comfortable doing so for the following reasons:
- I didn’t go to journalism school. I went to business school, although I unknowingly became a journalist after I started blogging daily about technology, business, and video game news in the spring of 2005. I officially become a journalist later that year after being hired by AOL, which afforded me the first of several media credentials in the coming years while covering press events, interviewing experts sources, and receiving free products in exchange for editorial consideration.
- I suffer from mild imposter syndrome. Although I’d never consider myself a fraud given my published (if not evident) competence, I sometimes attribute my accomplishments to luck and timing over my own efforts. I say “mild imposter syndrome” because there are days I feel that my success is deserved—the direct result of hard, persistent work. But there are other days when I feel incredibly lucky and pinch myself for all of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 years.
- I’m self-taught. To combat number one, I’ve spent 10,000 hours writing and have published 10s of thousands of short stories and hundreds of full-length stories over my career. I also learned from the best. Who are the best? The Associated Press. So I adopted their “journalism for dummies” book as my bible. I also apprenticed with several incredible editors. Similar to number two, this informal education makes me feel like an imposter, especially since traditional journalist use to label me as a “blogger” in my early days rather than someone who can be taken seriously and counted on to write a compelling news story.
- I’d rather not be politicized. I know people that genuinely believe “the media” is collectively out to get them or exist solely to push a liberal agenda. As an insider that’s written for CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today, and other top media, I can confidently say that this belief is completely unfounded. Of course, there are some shady journalist out there, although not as much as the Ace In The Hole days (because even watch dogs have watch dogs now). But there’s a lot less baggage to being a “writer” as opposed to “journalist.” TRUE STORY: While writing for Fox News for several years, I jokingly told hesitant sources that I wrote for the “fair and balanced department” to break the ice and reassure that I wouldn’t misconstrue their words.
- I cover mostly trivial subjects. Since becoming a journalist 12 years ago, I’ve covered video games, technology, business, sports, entertainment, and travel in that order. I take my work seriously, but I don’t pretend that it has life-changing consequences for my audience. For example, I’ve never reported on war zones, government corruption, monopolistic behavior, crime, or other societal under bellies. I mostly help tech companies and media publications sell more widgets (i.e. products, services, or advertising) with believable stories that interest wide audiences. That said, I almost feel it my duty to reserve “journalist” to real truth-seekers and freedom fighters. Although I wouldn’t categorize my work as pseudo-journalism, it also doesn’t feel as significant or important as the life and death subjects that other journalists report and seek truth on.
To make me feel even more insignificant, my professional contributions cease to exist when the power goes out—that is all of my work is online. The irony in all of this is that my handlers (i.e. the public relation professionals and companies that offer me story ideas) all consider me to be a journalist, reporter, critic, or columnist.
That said, I’m open to calling myself “journalist” more, but even that feels incomplete. Is there a single word that embodies the following job description? “Has traveled the world, visited five continents, interviewed 100s of really smart people, attended countless music festivals, gaming conventions, sporting events, media tours, and reviewed some of the coolest technology, software, computers, movies, gadgets, games, clothes, and travel destinations known to man, often before even the general public has access to it?
The struggle is real.