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This column is a part of the 2011 Senior Section's Moving On Into the Real World series.
For the past nine months, I’ve been sleeping on an IKEA mattress folded in half. My feet hang off the edge. I’ve been sharing one room with two other women and a large snake, whose cage doubles as our coffee table.
Rent is cheap. This is one of the three pillars of my journalism career. The other two are Twitter and the fact that I can stay on my parents’ health insurance until I’m 26.
It’s interesting to work in an industry that’s having an ongoing debate over whether anyone will actually pay for the stuff we make. I’m not saying this facetiously: being part of a group of hyper-articulate people who are losing their business model and trying to find a new one is fascinating.
But it also means that I, like many of the young journalists I know, exist in a halfway world of stipends and fellowships, where it’s no longer shocking to be a 25-year-old intern. (I will be a 25-year-old intern.)
It’s an exciting world, full of startups and big questions and fights about the nature of information. But it’s strange, too. You get professional cred for understanding Facebook. There are newsrooms flailing in their attempts to master the Internet, and newsrooms owned by AOL.
The best introduction to all of this is Twitter, the journalist hangout that never closes. Don’t listen to Bill Keller. Twitter has been my journalism school: the place where I’ve found mentors, debated theory and practice, figured out what I need to learn. Spend some time there. Make friends. If you want to be a journalist, you need to develop your own opinions about who, in the future, will pay you to write, or visualize data, or code.
People will tell you to network, to “build you own personal brand,” and they’re not wrong. This may get you a job.
But if you’re interested in journalism because you want to be a writer, you need to play a different game. Nobody can help you. Writing is about you and the page, about how far you can go in your relationship with language. The friends I have who will make it as writers are the ones who have full-time jobs and write on top of that.
They don’t expect to earn money. They just do it.
When I was in college, I worried a lot. I thought if I didn’t become the best little reporter in the world, I wouldn’t make it in this business. But it turns out all you really need is stubborness. If you stick around long enough, you’ll have a career—and I don’t mean on a content farm. If you budget, and make some compromises, you can live by writing stories you care about. It’s pretty amazing. And the compromising isn’t so bad. My roommate’s snake, for instance, is lovely.
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