On Wanting to Be a Journalist

I always wanted to be a journalist. Okay, for a little while I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I quickly realised that my distinct lack of artistic ability would be a hindrance to designing bestselling gowns. So after that, a journalist was all I wanted to be.

As a teenager I filled countless notebooks with my scribbles, pored over women’s magazines and even wrote little novels. I spent my holidays taking the maximum amount of books out of the library, imagining my 20-something-self publishing acclaimed articles and uncovering fascinating stories. (The truth though, is that I would have been a terrible investigative journalist. I am no Mandy Wiener. I am not brave).

Towards the end of my school career I had to decide what universities to apply for. I wanted to study journalism and Rhodes was the best place for that, but after 18 years in Grahamstown, I just couldn’t wait to get out. Rhodes is an excellent university but my small town self was lusting after big city life, so I headed off to UCT. On my parents’ recommendation I studied Business and specialised in Marketing, because it seemed “the most creative” out of the business options.

Do I regret the degree I studied? Not really. It’s given me the skills I need to run my own business, and my marketing background has been pretty useful too. After graduating, I found myself working in book publishing, marketing other people’s wonderful books and this taught me a lot too. But all along, all I wanted to do was write.

I now write commercially, for corporates that are trying to reach consumers and communicate a certain message to them. I write about insurance, event co-ordination, used cars, seafood, market research and antenuptial contracts. I write about jewellery, advertising and financial products. Some of it is fascinating. Some of it is less so. But I love writing and the fact that I get to make a living out of doing something I love, makes me pretty lucky.

Do I want to do more freelance writing for magazines and websites? Yes I do. But the corporates pay me so much better, so finding the time to write “for the love of it” becomes harder and harder to justify.

This article by freelance journalist Nechama Brodie is fascinating. She talks about how hard it is to make a living as a freelance writer, even one as experienced (and clearly excellent) as she is. Why is writing so badly paid, when it’s one of the hardest things to do? Balancing the books is equally hard, except we seem to pay our accountants pretty well.

Reading the comments below Brodie’s article is equally fascinating. One of SA’s best known journalists Ivo Vegter even says: “Whenever a youngster asks me for advice on becoming a journalist, I ask if they don’t want a paying job instead”.

I suppose that’s it in a nutshell. Many of us want to write, but we still need to make a living. So all we can do is try and combine the two, in the best way we know how.

What did you want to be when you grow up? A mother? A marine biologist? A photographer? And how does your current life compare?

It’s always good to ask these questions at the beginning of the year and maybe take some steps towards your “dream job”, whether it’s doing a course in the evenings or retraining at work.

As for me, I’m going to put my head down and try and get 3 or 4 freelance articles published soon. Wish me luck.



3 thoughts on “On Wanting to Be a Journalist

  1. I think I wanted to be psychologist for a long time but when the MA was too hard to get into, I gave up on that. Then I wanted to be a teacher, did that for a while. Now I want to be a writer. But I think there is more than one way, not just journalism. Also blogging and writing books which I think is cool 🙂

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