The not-so-silly reason I left journalism (and why copywriting worked better)

Bring on the hustle and flow.

Recently, there was a bit of a minor journalistic scandal in my town. There was plenty of hubbub about social media, journalistic integrity, and what it means to talk to the press.

There was a lot of hubbub about it, and a lot of good discussions.

Through it all, my main thought was, Man, am I glad I’m not a part of that scene anymore.

That is to say, I felt relief at no longer being a journalist.

That part of my career is 90% in the past. I’ll report on a story or pass it to a journo friend if it’s absolutely relevant.

But a job in journalism? No thanks.

I left journalism to become a copywriter because of one big factor: Compassion.

Journalism is not a compassionate field. Nor should it be.

When people claim to be doing “compassionate journalism,” they’re missing the point of the entire field.

Journalism is not kind. It is principled.

Let’s give ourselves a scenario: If a journalist camped out for three days to snap a picture revealing political corruption, we’d call them a hero. Or at least I would.

But now the question becomes: What outlet would run that photo?

Is the politician formally endorsed by the home publication for the reporter? If not, would going after them aggressively make the outlet look too biased? If the reporter wanted to leak it to a different outlet for fear of workplace alienation, would they be blackballed from ever working in that field again?

Advertising by people who don’t truly understand advertising is leaking into journalism and rotting it’s soul.

It’s forcing people who should only be concerned with moral ideas of truth and justice to think about money and leverage. This only leads to crushing moral relativism.

It would be one thing if journalists were still largely segregated to reporting news. But now journalists must be many things. They must be copywriters, personalities, commentators, and hosts. They are no longer permitted to be “mean” and hard-hitting. They must be nice.

People who work in news are forced to appeal to our morality to just them doing their job. They shouldn’t need to. They’re the news.

Compare this with advertising and copywriting, where the rules of morality are blatant: The job of the advertiser is to convince someone to buy a product.

It seems harsh. But in truth, this is a far more freeing morality system than modern journalism currently abides. The reader/customer/viewer of an ad (or any piece of promotional material) automatically knows what your game is. Now they can lean back and watch your attempt.

There’s no moral ambiguity.

There’s no underhanded agenda to convince you of a moral argument.

Advertising is there to try to sell you a product. Once that nasty bit of business is out of the way, all the customer has to do is enjoy the art and see if we can indeed convince them to purchase X or Y.

This forces the advertiser to be compassionate, to step outside themselves. Who is this customer? What do they want? What do they dream about?

Advertising, at it’s heart, is compassion. Only the empathetic survive.

Compare this to the journalist, who now has a thousand forces screaming in their ear. When do they release important news? Should they comment on it personally? Will they be fired for their political beliefs? Or worse, silenced?

In observing the spat between Mike Bivins and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, I felt uncomfortable at several points. I don’t like the idea of Facebook fodder geared toward friends being used to potentially silence me. I don’t like the idea of having morals imposed on my rants, or the idea of always watching to make sure someone slips up.

Am I too queasy about privacy as it applies to news and the right of the people to know? Maybe.

But more than that, I dislike the current journalistic trend of arguing every action as being “for the good of the news.”

I dislike moral relativism in any field. But more than that, I don’t like the idea of not sitting down and discussing moral implications of actions because “things are moving too fast and we have to stay relevant.”

Advertising has recently undergone a wave of sanctimony. Thankfully, it is receding. More than that, it is being squashed and mocked with unrelenting glee.

The Fearless Girl may have won awards, but it’s also called into question the hypocrisy of agencies who want to profess a moralistic stance. They stopped being compassionate toward their customers, and thought only of themselves. They were laughed at, mocked, and even decried by the original sculptor of the Charging Bull statue.

They paid the price for forgetting to be compassionate.

Maybe things will change. Maybe journalism will figure itself out and we’ll return to a time of separatist journalism.

Maybe the ad department and marketing department over at the big outlets will find their places and the journalists will feel more free to just find the truth.

Maybe journalistic outlets will pay more of a livable wage for journalists so they don’t feel the need to take on other gigs, for multiple outlets, just so they can put food on the table. Let us all pray that they don’t compromise morally.

Me? I’m glad I jumped ship when I did.

I’m too nice to be a journalist anymore. Or, rather, I’d rather belong to a field that forces me to step outside myself. Think about the consumer.

Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?