Alright you guys, forgive me if this whole thing comes across as bitchy, but there’s just something I have to get off my chest and I really can’t hold it in anymore.
The newspaper business — journalism, photography, column writing, etc. — is not a hobby. It’s a business. Specifically, my business.
As fun as my job can be sometimes, believe it or not, I don’t just do it because it’s fun. It’s my job. It’s my paycheck. It’s my livelihood — and I worked damn hard to get here.
Now, I’m not asking for a “well done” or a pat on the back — I’m really not — but what I would like is for people to stop asking to do my job for free, “for fun,” or in their “spare time.”
Stop it. Just, stop it.
When someone comes up to me and says “I would like to write for your newspaper,” my response is always the same: “Awesome! Send your full resume, cover letter, references and at least three samples of your previously published work to my publisher. If she likes what she sees, she’ll be in touch — bring your portfolio.”
To which they (always) reply: “Oh, no. I was just thinking of writing, you know, once in a while. For fun.”
I feel like that lady in the esurance commercial saying “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!”
I am at work 24/7. I have a police scanner in my house, I have a laptop on my bed, I have a phone that beeps and rings non-stop and at all hours of the night.
I have driven to the scene of accidents and train derailments in my pajamas, I have left my family in the middle of dinner to go cover a football game or a council meeting. I have cancelled vacations because of an important vote and I have not had a full weekend off in over a year.
A 15-pound bag of camera equipment is never more than five feet away from me at any given time and I always have multiple pads of paper and pens with me.
Again, I’m not complaining. It goes with the territory. But it’s insulting when someone thinks they can just step in and do my job with no qualifications, experience or idea of the level of commitment it requires.
This column that you’re reading right now is my absolute favorite “perk” of my job — and it’s something most journalists will never get to have.
A weekly column in a newspaper is the crown jewel. Reporters have slaved away for years working graveyard shifts or writing obits or police blotters for the chance at someday moving up and having their own column.
So, to put it bluntly, no. No one’s going to give you a column just because you think you have something to say — so does everyone else. That’s what journals and diaries are for. Or … blogs. Whatever.
Now, on the other hand, if you feel particularly strong about a certain subject, you can always write a letter to the editor. And seriously, as long as you don’t do anything stupid — like libel — we’ll probably run it. It’s not that we don’t want to hear from you — we do — but there is a distinct difference between being involved with your local newspaper and working there.
Before I had my first “real” newspaper job I was involved with my high school yearbook and I wrote for my college paper. I freelanced (note: “freelance” doesn’t mean I worked “for free”) for The Times Picayune and The Marion Star. I have since had bylines in Stars and Stripes, The Detroit Free Press and The State, just to name a few.
In my short three years at The Sentinel-Progress, under the banner of both The Easley Progress and The Pickens Sentinel, I’ve been honored to receive 13 S.C. Press Association awards, including a “Best of the Best” at the Progress — something almost unheard of for a newspaper that’s not a daily.
Again, I’m not trying to brag, I’m trying to make a point that journalism is a professional career. And like any career, you need to be experienced, qualified and … well … not suck at it.
Let me put it this way: Say you own a restaurant and I come in and say I want to make a chicken salad sandwich that I would like featured in your restaurant once a week. No, I don’t have any cooking experience. No, I don’t have any knowledge of health code regulations concerning preparations.
And yes, I realize you already employ people who are qualified to make a perfectly good chicken salad sandwich but I would like to do it anyway. You know, “for fun.”
What do you think that restaurant owner would tell me?
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at email@example.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.