Wednesday, April 7, 2021

You Don't Have to be Crazy to be a Journalist . . .

But it's certainly not a bar to entry. Stacy McCain responds to Gwen Aviles: Journalism and Mental Health

Gwen Aviles

Dear Ms. Aviles:

What you need here, ma’am, is an expert analysis, and you’ve found the right guy for the job because — ask around — I’ve always been crazy.

One spring afternoon in 1986, I put on my three-piece suit and walked into the offices of the Cobb News-Chronicle. I walked out with a $4.50-an-hour job as a staff writer and an assignment to cover that evening’s Austell City Council meeting. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was better than driving a forklift, which was what I’d been doing for the past year-and-a-half, saving up money to buy P.A. gear for my rock band.

Thirty-five years later, I’m still at it and, some would say, I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I am by God doing it, aren’t I?

My point here is that journalists have mental health problems because no genuinely sane person would ever get into this miserable racket. Some people pine for the Golden Age of Journalism, but this “profession” (if you can call it that) has always attracted more than its fair share of kooks and cranks who, if they actually became successful at journalism, were politely called “eccentric,” which is just a word for crazy people who make good money. But these were rare exceptions, and the bulk of the people in America’s newsrooms were always a mix of neurotics and drunks, supervised by sadistic sociopaths known as “editors.”

You want to talk about “trauma-facing” work? Yeah, I spent a few years as a sports editor in a small town in North Georgia, where the fans of the various high schools constantly accused me of being biased in favor of their rivals. Calhoun fans thought I was in the tank for Gordon Central and vice-versa, but all I cared about was hitting my deadlines and having enough copy to fill up the section. Talk about trauma . . .

Bowling-league standings.

For years, my job included typing in the local bowling-league scores, which is about as low on the journalistic totem pole as it gets, but I had a wife and kids and bills to pay, so I did it. The problem with most young journalists today is they never had to do that kind of grungy low-level local journalism. Instead they graduated from Northwestern or Columbia and landed a job with one of those clickbait farms — HuffPo, Buzzfeed, Vox — cranking out listicles and other worthless crap. On my tombstone, the epitaph should read: “Here lie the mortal remains of Robert Stacy McCain, who never once in his journalism career wrote a listicle.”

Bowling scores, yes. Listicles, never.

Nowadays, every 23-year-old J-school grad thinks he’s qualified to be a pundit, telling us How to Save Our Democracy. They don’t want to do any actual work, so they haven’t paid their dues covering the police beat or city-council meetings or whatever, but you can find them on Twitter 24/7 snarking away about national politics and how utterly oppressed they are, because they’ve got $60,000 in student-loan debt. And then when they get axed in the latest round of layoffs, we’re expected to take seriously the wailing about the Death of American Journalism because some 26-year-old lost his/her (they/them?) job writing clickbait for HuffPo. . . .

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