Tuesday, October 18, 2005

U-Turns 'R' Scary

They say it's never been done. They say that once you cross over into "the dark side" there's no going back, that the long black bridge from journalism to corporate PR is a one-way route. No one has ever journeyed back across and lived to tell - though plenty have tried, most have jumped.

Journalism is not something people get into for the money. That much I learned in the first five minutes of my freshman journalism course. "Is anyone here interested in making money?" Professor Meyer asked the room of young idealists. To those few who had raised their hand he gently advised, "I believe they are teaching marketing courses down the hall."

How I got to this bizarre point in my career is not important (I vaguely recall the blatant hedonism of the dot-com boom and being seduced by an enviable job launching online games - some details are fuzzy.) However, there is the tangible sensation of having chosen the wrong fork in the road and the burden of knowing I must now do some serious backtracking.

I worry, will journalism take me back? A better question might be does it even deserve me? What was once a craft has become an industry that is mostly over-dramatized and lacking in credible sources. How seriously can you take ABC News knowing that it is owned by a billion-dollar mouse?

It is no accident that the rise of blogs, podcasting and the resulting 'citizen journalism' have risen from the same world that gave us Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and a careless Dan Rather with one fact checker short of a full story. Fine, the public has said, we'll do it ourselves then - we can type, we can talk. The fact that many Americans cite "The Daily Show" their main news source says something: If much of the news is fake anyway, why not get it from guys who admit to it? At least we can get some yuks in before Armegeddon dawns. If there is anything I have learned from my years in public relations is that the news is more staged than one would ever know.

Anyway, back to me . . . I honestly don't have a choice and neither do my future employers at the Austin American Statesman or the Associated Press or NPR or the Times-Picayune. They either let me re-cross that godforsaken bridge or I'll be forced into once again wearing a nametag and presenting the age-old question: Soup or salad? I'll burn that bridge before I go back there again - not all career U-turns are welcome.

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