J-School in the beginning stages is, more than anything else, a grind.
We’re going through the fundamentals right now, where we do a few weeks of each of the building blocks of journalism – reporting through writing, reporting through audio, reporting through photo – before we get to specialize. And even next quarter, I think, it will be fundamentals of the specializations.
There’s two problems to this: one is that you have no time and you’re exhausted and you’re spending roughly nine to ten hours a day doing something you’re maybe not that thrilled to do. But this is, and always has been, one of the great truths of entry-level anything: that you’re doing the grit work that everyone else had to do and like vitamins and minerals and carrots, it will serve to make you grow big and strong and have 20/20 vision, thereby saving your bleeding graduate budget from the walloping blow of prescription lenses. (YEAH I NEED NEW GLASSES AND I AM UNHAPPY. Sorry I couldn’t stem the bitterness from seeping out into this post.)
The second, bigger problem is that the more you pump stuff out, if you’re looking at it with a really critically eye, you realize – you kind of suck. I mean, you don’t totally suck. There are people who suck worse. But you are not as good as you were in your head.
For example, when your teacher gives you an assignment, you have this vision in your head of this killer topic and killer sources you’re going to find, and then as time slips away, you’re finding you can’t quite get that killer topic or those killer sources, and so it is a little less awesome than you’d like.
Then you get to the event and in your interviews, you ask solid enough questions of solid enough people, but you don’t get the killer quote from the congressman, or the zinger from the crowd, and you can’t even get close enough to the senator to put your microphone anywhere near audible range.
And in your pictures, you had this idea of the way you were going to get the light hitting the right side of the scene and there was going to be three people strolling in exactly the right place and the wind was going to be blowing, but then you find that you go outside and you can’t get the exposure quite right and your little iTouch isn’t doing quite what a DSLR can do (why this keeps surprising me, I am not sure) and you forgot your gloves so your fingers are slowly freezing in the winter air, so after half an hour you go inside with a bunch of photos that are good, but certainly not anything to write home about.
And putting together all this good-not-great stuff leaves you with a solidly competent piece. You’re not worried anyone will think you’re falling behind in class, but you don’t want to be simply keeping pace, you want to be the Usain Bolt of the 100m dash that is journalism. (Convoluted and somewhat ineffective metaphor, but you get what I’m saying.)
My problem in journalism isn’t passion, I have got more passion than Juliet Capulet herself. I also, however, have a hefty dose of her youthful impatience. The most discouraging thing (aside from the lack of sleep, time, groceries and money) is not living up to my own benchmarks for myself.
That’s why I like Ira Glass’ little speech so much. It makes a lot of sense, and it’s good to know I’m not the only one. (Except that unlike Glass, the gap between my talent and my taste seems to be more of a yawning chasm, but hey. A girl’s gotta have standards. )
Journalism, and all it encompasses, is something I like enough to continually disappoint myself for, time and time again. I have a bunch of projects lined up in my head, but I’d like to be good enough to properly execute them. And that’ll take a while. (A LONG while.)
There’s no really good way to end this rallying cry to anyone who is suffering with the same thing, so here. Have some short-of-my-own-standards photos from a FREEZING shoot we were sent out to do for photojournalism class where our assignment was, “Take some photos coming back from lunch.”
I’m off to the lab to work hard and continue to brand myself average. Another day in the life, kids.