One of the advantages of studying journalism in a major market is the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of some very prominent media operations and trade notes with some highly respected professionals. You learn not only how things operate but also how they actually work: who’s really important, who’s really esteemed, who’s really a hack, and so forth.
As a graduate student here in Chicago, there was (and still is) no end to the veritable luminaries you could cross paths with, and the chance to trade notes with so many of them was easily the high point of this fledgling writer’s career. Renowned journalists, award-winning authors, national-level columnists, pioneering broadcasters – all with so much to say and mostly willing to share it.
Everyone knows media is a fairly competitive industry, although it’s still anyone’s guess why. The hours and pay are equally horrid, the future is totally uncertain, yet for some reason thousands upon thousands of people want in. Still, that’s their prerogative and what seemed to happen was that most writers and reporters, having attained some level of success, would take it upon themselves to let everyone else in on the secret.
A good place to get clips. How to land that internship. How to package your portfolio. An editor someone knows. Someone who could write a good story for you. You know, useful stuff.
Equally perplexing was how, despite the constant infighting and jockeying for position among prized slots in any of the publications people actually read, there was always a certain level of respect everyone expressed for the rest of their peers, even among people who actually hated each other. Two reporters may have chewed each other out last year after the Lisagors, but still wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that was a hell of a story the other ran last month. So-and-so is kind of a tomcat, but their book was absolutely brilliant. In a way it all sounded less like a line of work and more like a support group, albeit one founded more on mild hostility and vague passive-aggressiveness than collective will to improve. There was contempt, but there was also adulation; an endless spewing of venom balanced by giving credit where credit was due.
The lone exception was one local writer of some national fame. No one liked him, not even his co-workers and certainly not his contemporaries. He makes himself bigger than the story, they would say. He derides others then steals their act, they would say. He violates every tenet of responsible journalism while cutting down his peers for lesser infractions, they would say. I hate having my name in the same publication as that man, they would say.
Last night, that exception stepped down. Readers, writers and subjects rejoiced in harmony.