When I made a living as a so-called journalist, I preferred to think of myself as a work-a-day news reporter, I soon learned that reporting the facts and seeking the truth had very little to do with the job.
I got into the newspaper business in a rather unorthodox way, by going back to college at night and studying writing and then hustling story pitches to literally hundreds of publications, until one or two actually gave me assignments on spec. For those not in the business, this means I did all the reporting leg work, including writing the story, all with no guarantee the editor of the publication would actually pay me, unless she liked it. This always included her edits, suggestions, which often led to time-consuming revisions that added nothing extra to the what I would be paid, because I was being paid for piece work.
There were times when I jumped through all the hoops, spent hours on a story, only to have it killed because the editor who assigned it to me, suddenly left the publication and the new editor would not be interested at all. Or, the story could have been exactly what she asked for, but her budget had been cut without notice and in such cases, freelancers were cut first.
Brutal Way to Make a Living
In all honesty, it was a tough almost impossible way to make a living, but even though I was approaching middle age, I was starstruck with the idea of writing for a living and maybe actually making a sight difference in the cosmos. I am telling you all of this to show you the unhealthy patterns that most journalists are forced to conform to early in their careers, if they have any hope of becoming a staff writer for any minor or major publication. They learn early in the game that pleasing their editors is paramount and that your editor’s views of the world, or perceived truths, is what you must mold your story to, if you want to get or keep your job as a wordsmith. There may be exceptions to the rule, but I never saw one.
Must Follow the Approved Narratives
When I finally landed a few staff-writer jobs with some fairly big publications, I quickly learned that there were approved narratives that each so-called reporter must follow no matter where the facts lead them. If they dared to deviate, their articles would be killed and they would be canned if they persisted in such a rebellious activity as reporting what they actually witnessed.
For example, I was a business reporter and one of my assignments was to was to profile companies that were fixers for some of the minority federal IT contractors. These fixers were usually companies that helped troubleshoot and fix complex IT problems that had the contractors stumped. I soon discovered that in many cases the so-called fixer companies where actually keeping everything working and would have been a better choice for the actual contract on which they were assisting.
Since the government program for these set-aside programs allowed them to bid higher than other non-minority competitors for a job, most of the government contracts were being made at a premium. A premium, I might add, that most taxpayers had no idea existed. When you added on top of this premium cost the additional expenses being charged by the fixers, the taxpayers were being fleeced. No matter.
When I brought my finding back to my editors, they all agreed, this was not the story they wanted. They wanted, instead, a simple, puff-piece profile on the fixer – end of story.
I was working for another publication and was writing a story about a major development that was coming to the area because of a military base alignment. It was a several-installment piece, of which one of the parts focused on workforce issues. My many interviews with professors and industry experts yielded the fact that base realignments often attracted a major influx of illegal-alien workers to the areas. This meant they would be competing against locals for jobs, but it also meant they would put further demands on hospitals, schools, roads and, yes, social programs.
In all the sunshine scenarios being reported on the military-base realignment and how it would boost the local economy, none of them touched on the migrant-worker factor and its potential effects. To me, I have come up with a set of facts other reporters in other publications had missed. Wrong and naive.
A day after I turned in the multi-installment piece, my managing editor called me into his office and asked me to close the door. It was then that he told me the editor and he had decided to cut out the section on migrant workers flooding the area because of the new development.
“We don’t want people to think we are racist,” he said, sheepishly.
I could go on and on, but won’t for this article. I think I’ve made my point. But the real question is: how can we exist as an open society if we ban the facts and never allow them to rise to the surface? The answer: we don’t.