A fellow reporter introduced us to “his” intern from Arizona State University. The intern walked into a cesspool of cynical people sitting in their seats. As if fathers warning their sons, several people surrounding me warned the intern to re-direct his career path away from broadcast journalism.
When the reporter introduced the intern to me, I told him to “follow his dreams.” The group exploded in laughter. I unintentionally tried to inspire the college student with words said in a deadpan fashion. I portrayed myself as a beaten man giving one last thumbs up before my head disappeared into quicksand. Until the day I left the TV station, co-workers randomly told me to “follow my dreams.”
I genuinely meant, “follow your dreams.” I know firsthand broadcast journalism isn’t always glowing in the glory of Walter Cronkite. Instead of regularly saying thank you for your contributions, some stations simply hope you appreciate being employed. Instead of handing you a company credit card for out-of-town stories, some stations will want you to pay up front and ask you, if you forgot to obtain an itemized receipt, to call the restaurant and request someone to fax the necessary documentation related to your meal. (The restaurant may hesitate to help you because the station required you to give the nice waitress a tip you consider to be low.) While some stations are happy to try to meet your vacation requests, others will ask you to calculate every day off a year in advance. While some stations will congratulate you on a new job and notify the public of your part in the company’s success, other stations will view anyone who leaves as a cousin of Benedict Arnold. While some stations will watch your time with James Bond technology, other stations will define your efforts by quality not quantity. And some stations simply pay better.
Young journalists shouldn’t walk into any job as if they landed on a new planet of shiny, happy, perfect people. But young journalists also should follow their dreams and never let a disgruntled news veteran discourage them. Most of my college classmates in broadcast journalism never tried for their first job after hearing the salary and the small city they might initially live in. I, on the other hand, rented an apartment in North Carolina, drove about an hour each way to work and smiled like a young fool filled with passion.
Follow your dreams. I mean it. And if a station inexplicably takes months to reimburse your out-of-town expenses after you light up the airwaves with a series of awesome live shots, don’t worry. You’ll eventually get your money … I think.