What Journalism Taught Me (Not What You Think)


By Harry Hodge

So the headline is not necessarily what you’re expecting to read, I reckon. I could mention some of the skills I picked up during my years working in the media, whether in full-time, part-time or freelance capacities. Things like the art of the interview, the ability to multi-task, honing my speed to slaughter deadlines. But the key thing I learned is likely what anyone who writes for income has come to understand.

It can all end tomorrow. So don’t put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. Get as much as you can from as many employers as possible. 

When the decision was handed down I’d no longer be needed at my former workplace in Canada, I felt a mix of relief and bewilderment. The atmosphere at the company was pretty toxic, so I was relieved to get out of it. Bewilderment at the fact that I’d had steady cash flow for (at the time) six years straight, and how was I going to move forward without money?

There’s a reason why you’ll see multiple freelance credits on a journalist’s CV; the money simply isn’t there from any one employer anymore. When I was in university, the health of the industry was beginning to decline, but none of us really noticed. Unpaid internships were normal, even 20 years ago. But now, you read horror stories about editors and newsmen in their 50s working in the pro shop at the local country club because their position was downsized at a daily newspaper.

Or, in the case of Canadian newspapers, the entire publication was downsized, as dozens were last year in Ontario. That whole shady transaction is another matter, which you can read more about here if you so choose: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/documents-reveal-competition-watchdogs-concerns-over-torstar-postmedia-deal/article38316813/


Better to be in Vietnam

Of course, any time you’re replaced it’s a negative feeling. Depending on you as an individual, it can be a minore annoyance or hugely depressing. No one wants to feel like they’re interchangeable or inferior in some way to whoever’s moving into their spot. And if you’re simply a cost-cutting move, the issue of how you cope still needs to be addressed. Some even posit that grieving moves in stages: https://lifehacker.com/the-five-stages-of-grief-after-losing-a-job-1725201444

Since I’ve been in Vietnam, I’ve tried to steer clear of relying on a single revenue stream. One of my writing gigs recently said they’d be putting resources elsewhere and that I wasn’t to be in the mix; so what do you do? Try to cajole or coax them into funnelling that cash back to you? Or not waste time and find solutions where that shortfall can be made up? The latter is the most obvious, and quickest, solution.

One of the good things about living in Vietnam is, as a native speaker of English, there are a number of routes you can choose to follow. Dwelling on previous gigs, unless you parted on good terms and see some possibilities there, is a fruitless endeavour. So you do what you do when you have been in this mindset for what seems like eternity; start beating the bushes. Examine your budget and calculate how much you made at that position, whether it’s copywriting, freelance journalism or whatever, and look for how much you need to do to fill that gap.

Copywriting can be just as volatile and unpredictable as journalism; companies will elect for the cheaper option when possible. One company forgot to tell me I’d been replaced, and only after a few weeks did someone bother to elaborate on it. But the point that I wasn’t too bothered can either be viewed as (A) confidence in the volume of opportunities; or (B) a lack of expectations regarding employers. The latter could be construed as somewhat cynical, but if we’re being honest it’s the most practical and rational viewpoint.

Companies are always looking out for their bottom lines. Treat yourself like they treat themselves. We’re all in it to win it.





About hodgedude

I'm a Canadian journalist and teacher, most recently living in Edmonton and Toronto, now located in Ho Chi Minh City. Graduate of Concordia University in Montreal. I've taught English in S. Korea, pulled rickshaws in Canada, taught at a Taiwanese language boot camp, edited newspapers in China and played a French-speaking Spanish colonel on Vietnamese TV. I also play Australian football. Pick up a copy of issue one of my independent comic, "Getting Lucky," at Happy Harbor Comics in Edmonton, the Comic Hunter in Moncton, New Brunswick, and the Spotted Cow Pub, 111 Bui Vien, District 1, Saigon.
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