Definitions of a journalist, or lack thereof

What defines a journalist anymore?

After the G20 happened, there was certainly a lot of discussion about journalist rights, or their apparently growing lack thereof.

But what about freelancers who have switched to PR? Or those whose incomes rely mostly on jobs outside of journalism? Or haven’t produced in months?

How do you measure who is and who isn’t a journalist?

Often this question is asked in relationship to newer publishing platforms – the bloggers vs. old media debate certainly doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

But what about someone like me? Do I get the right to call myself a journalist?

Sure, I went to journalism school. Did not one, but three internships, all in different mediums. Co-founded a new press club in Toronto. Live-blogged a few journalism conferences this year and have a decent Rolodex of friends in the industry. Even listed on a bunch of ‘journalist’ lists on Twitter.

But for the last few months, outside of Twitter I haven’t produced much of anything. I haven’t blogged and outside of a trip to New York in August, I haven’t taken any photos. I was at a wedding when the G20 protests were taking place. All I could do was read and retweet news stories while friends were getting caught in the rain, kettled, interrogated by police or beaten with batons.

I was still fortunate enough to get some high-profile job interviews at prestigious media companies. But I got tired of making excuses for my lack of recent clippings and it was clear my skills were very rusty. So I enrolled in night classes at Ryerson University, gave my two weeks notice at my bank job and started looking forward to a scary future filled with days pitching to editors.

And then I got a communications job.

It was entirely unexpected. But the week before I gave my notice a very kind professor from my journalism program sent me a job posting. Thinking not much of it, I applied. And not long afterwards I found myself with a voicemail asking if I could come in for an interview.

(The voicemail was due to this lovely incident, but that’s a story for another day.)

Five days after my meeting and three days before my bank job was up, I got an offer.

The job, which starts tomorrow, is in the Communications and Public Affairs department at U of T Scarborough.

It’s an interesting place to work, in that it’s where I completed my undergrad less than a year ago. And I’m excited for it, in that they’re essentially paying me to do the job I had while I was working for The Varsity. (Typical article pitch: UofT has a suburban campus! It doesn’t suck! In fact, here’s how it’s notable/crazy/weirder than St. George.)

But part of me is a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I did it. I found a job that lets me write for a living, pays a decent wage, has reasonable hours, fantastic benefits and is close to home in a time when many people are still struggling to find jobs.

But I’m not a reporter, editor or photographer. I don’t work in a newsroom. And no one would classify the work I’m about to do as journalism.

Still, trying to define myself even before my first day is a bit early and presumptuous. And there’s no telling if I was always meant to be in communications, or if I eventually attend a master’s program or find other work in magazines and newspapers.

Now if only I could figure out what I’m going to wear tomorrow…

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4 thoughts on “Definitions of a journalist, or lack thereof

  1. Good luck on the new job Karen.

    You’re asking some very tough questions.

    Am I a journalist? I don’t write for a living, I edit. The last time I was just a writer for an organization was for CUP in 2007-08. Does that mean I’m not a journalist? I don’t know.

    Unlike me, you went to j-school. And a whole bunch of people who go to j-school get into the PR industry. It’s not a bad thing (a few years ago I had a couple interviews which would have sent me to the Dark Side).

    Had I gotten that job, would I still be a journalist? I say no. Last month I had another job offer than the one I took. It too would have been walking away from the industry. Would I still call myself a journalist? No.

    How you label yourself is up to you. But in my humble opinion, you are on the PR side of things now. Yes, you are doing “basically” the same job you did at the Underground, but I’m willing to wager you were encouraged to be neutral at the Underground, and something tells me the stuff you will be producing now will be very much in U of T’s favour — that’s not a bad thing.

    We all make choices in life. Perhaps one day, you will come back to the other side of the industry. But I wouldn’t get caught up with the labels — they’re just words we attach to things.

  2. Can you take on the odd freelance article *while* maintaining your dayjob? Apparently it isn’t that hard to write for The Globe and Mail (at least, that’s what my baby friend Matt Braga told me . . . mattbraga.com). 🙂
    PS, I found your site via Dylan Robertson’s Twitter. Hope this isn’t too creepy.

  3. Are you still grappling with this question? I also wonder about this. I joined the PR / IR industry, after an internship at a glossy lifestyle magazine. Am I still a journalist? You can still be, if you wish. Keep up with the writing!

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