I happened upon an interesting blog post by Ryan A. Chase about how he always dreamed of writing for ESPN, but now has changed his mind — mainly because, as he writes, it has become “the sports-related TMZ,” gunning for cheap clicks instead of news. I can’t offer an informed opinion on this, but it made me think of how our dreams tend to change over the years, for one reason or another; and nothing shows the changing times than the shifts in journalism-related dreams. Here are the dreams that I remember having, starting at age 12 or so, when I got over the idea that I might become a pop star and instead started thinking seriously about writing and journalism:
Freelance writer. When I learned this word in a book about writing at the library, I wanted to be it immediately. It sounds so magical: “free” and “lance.” I love that I’m now living my original dream, but other dreams after that included …
Chicago Tribune reporter. Once I made the pilgrimage to the grand building in downtown Chicago, I could imagine myself doing nothing else. I specifically hoped to become the next Mike Royko, which is a sort-of hilarious dream for a 15-year-old suburban cheerleader. One can imagine this as a set-up for a Veronica Mars-like teen show. I held onto variations of this dream for a while, all the way through my five years after college as a local newspaper reporter. But after about a hundred too many City Council meetings, I was done. Now, I’m awfully glad to be out of newspapers.
Rolling Stone writer. I got the less rock-and-roll version of this by working for Entertainment Weekly for ten years. I think I’m glad to not be tied to the fate of any particular magazine anymore. I survived several cutbacks during my time at EW, but one can’t outrun fate forever. I hardly saw it as the “torture,” as a recent Awl takedown characterized life at EW, but I certainly felt the shifts that continued to take the magazine farther away from my dream job.
I guess I never suffered quite the same disillusionment that Chase did, though I can see now — both as a longtime journalism professional and a discerning adult — that the places I so desperately wanted to work aren’t as great as I thought they were. I probably idealized them even at the time, and every kind of media, except the newest kind, has lost advertising pages, and thus resources. Fewer pages means fewer meaty stories. Desperation for readers means sensationalism and sex instead of substance — less thinking, more link bait.
In the end, I landed where I began, as a freelance writer who can take advantage of the good new publications and still-strong old publications, while writing from home in pajamas. It’s not always easy, but I still feel lucky.
What dream jobs have you let go of?