Like every about-to-be college grad, I was under the impression that getting my first job was going to be stupid hard. I was stressed out, cranky, and absolutely terrified at what my life was going to become after graduation. As an English major, I was well-versed in the Why would you major in that? You’ll never find a job speech. I heard it constantly from people in my life—but never from the ones whose opinions actually mattered.
It was usually from a family member or friend I saw a few times a year at a holiday dinner. They’d corner me and say, “English? Really?” and I’d give them my spiel about how I really enjoyed my lit classes, thought Shakespeare was brilliant, and liked to write.
“What did you expect me to major in?” I’d ask. And usually this is where the conversation would die—probably because whoever it was I was talking to had already spent two minutes too many talking about something they didn’t actually care about and was overdue for a piece of cheesecake or something. But, regardless, I was terrified that I would never get a job and be unable to prove wrong all the people who doubted my life choices. In December of my senior year, my first job fell right into my lap by chance, before I even walked across that stage.
Really, it’s probably the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me.
Prior to landing the job, I interned for a local TV station. As a “Digital Department Intern,” I worked with the digital producers to learn, primarily, how to write web stories. For someone who didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my English degree, I discovered that I actually really loved writing web stories. The first byline I ever had was about a highway exit closing for construction in one of the busiest parts of Providence – thrilling, I know. But it was cool to see my name right there for the entire state to read.
Being an intern wasn’t hard. I’d done it before in a different setting and I knew that I just had to treat it like any other job I’d ever had. Basically, you just show up and do what you’re told.
This internship was different though. Quickly, it became a massive, elephant-sized stressor in my life. In news, there is a particular pressure to be extremely accurate, spell things right, and not lie by accident. Sounds simple enough, but really it’s very easy to embellish something that shouldn’t be so big, or add in a few details that might not actually be correct. When you’re informing the public about things, these pressures surface pretty quickly. Now, you’re responsible for giving someone their facts, and that is something that would give even the strongest person heartburn. Right off the bat, I developed news anxiety. Did I double-check my grammar 10 times? Did I follow the press release closely? Did I attribute the arrest information to the police so it doesn’t look like I made it up? These aren’t things your normal, coffee-getting, mail-opening intern worries about.
Fast forward three months. My internship ended in December and I left there with a great point on my resume and some professional contacts that I could maybe ask for a reference in the future. I didn’t have any expectations, and I certainly didn’t want to pursue this as my forever career. I was just happy to be heading into my last semester of college with two amazing internships under my belt. A few weeks after leaving the station (and while I was enjoying my final undergrad winter break), I got a call for the Digital Director – AKA my boss’s boss. Now, this is a man that I never once met while interning. Turns out, someone left their job and they needed a “stringer” (news code for part-time freelancer). Did I want the job? I never really pictured myself working in news but it was a job and I was graduating in five months. Yes, I wanted the job.
So I spent my last semester of college working at the station. I was also waiting tables on the side and trying not to fail my final courses. Well, I succeeded in not failing. I quit my waitress job and went full-force into news mode the day after graduation (literally, I graduated on Sunday and started as a full-time Digital Content Producer on Monday). I worked there for almost two years. I learned more than I ever could have imagined and I met some really great, talented people. The news is like no other business I’ve ever worked in. It’s fast, loud, sad, and so, so stressful. And sometimes, it was actually rewarding.
But again, stressful. The most common topics for stories were car accidents, house fires, weather, and crimes. Living in Rhode Island, weather is a big one. My first week as a stringer, they asked me to come in to work the impending blizzard.
“Bring a bag,” my boss said. “You might be here for a while.”
Little did I know that I’d be sleeping in a hotel room with a stranger. I was there for two days, ate nothing but Pizza Goldfish, and hated every second of it. I actually considered getting in my car in two feet of snow and driving home so that I didn’t have to share a hotel room with a woman I’d never met, or use my personal credit card to book my own room away from the station-funded one they had secured for me. I ended up doing neither of these things, but let me tell you: walking into that room at 2 a.m. while the woman was asleep (she was a day-side news person) was the single most awkward and stressful moment of my young life.
When I look back on my time at the station, I always say that news people are ones who have great passion and knew they’d always work in the media. If you’re a reporter or a producer, you probably always wanted to be a reporter or a producer. I don’t consider myself that person. I loved writing and having my name out there. I loved that I got to learn so much about social media. I loved the people I worked with. But I hated that I had to commit myself to the news. And for me, that meant working nights, weekends, and most holidays.
Eventually, the death and carnage that was my job got to be too much for me. I started having full-fledged meltdowns on my way home from work at 11:30 every night. I’ve always had anxiety – but this job turned me into a nervous mess. I started seeing a counselor and when she asked me what was wrong, I said, “I want to have a normal life. And I don’t because I work for the news.”
My job was like a constant sprint – when I was at work, it was non-stop. When I was home, I had emails piling up that I felt like I HAD to look at. The email anxiety was SO REAL – I didn’t want to read them but also felt like if I didn’t, I’d miss one from a stranger saying I was bad at my job because I forgot a word in my sentence or because I spelled something wrong. Or “how dare you write about my nephew who was arrested for child porn possession because his charges were dropped.” Sorry, lady, but it’s my job.
The worst night of my news career was the night of the Paris terror attacks. Sure, I was working for a local station in Rhode Island, but this was a major event and it led all of our newscasts. I was rummaging through Facebook for locals who were overseas who might have been impacted or affected by the tragedy. I was sifting through AP photos of the scene — the bodies, the blood, the sheer terror — so I could make a gallery for our site. I was hunting for updated body counts and feeding it to our reporter who was updating our viewers live every 10 minutes. It was a night I will never forget because it had such a profound impact on me. But it didn’t seem to visibly upset anyone else in the room. That’s a thing that I, to this day, don’t understand. How can someone become so numb to such tragedy?
I never found the answer to that question.
That night — aside from all of the obvious feelings one has about a terror attack — made me realize that I wasn’t cut out for news and that I didn’t want to become someone who didn’t mind the tragedy. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for the people I worked with. I just wish I knew how they disconnected themselves so well. When I got home that night, I started looking for other opportunities.
A little less than a year later, I quit my job and never looked back. I love everything about my new position, but I’m so thankful for the two years I spent on night-side news. I met some amazing people and made some lasting personal and professional connections. I’ll be the first to admit that I was kind of obsessed with “working for the news” for a minute. I loved being part of an exclusive team that everyone wanted to know more about. I loved knowing everything before anyone else – listening to the police scanners will do that to you. Once the cool factor wore off, I became bitter because I truly hated it.
Now, I’ve realized that I’m so lucky I was given that opportunity in the first place. When I tell people I worked for the news, they are like, “WOW, cool.” It was cool… and so many other things. And it was a fascinating place to start a career.