Why I'm not a journalist

Why I'm not a journalist

I didn't think I would be good at news writing, all factual and formulaic. When I was cutting steaks and wrapping brisket at my part time job in a butchery, it was hooks for feature articles that ran through my mind. But I practiced and practiced and when the time came for the tutors to dole out work experience placements, it paid off. 

In my first week at one of the biggest evening newspapers in the UK, I got a front page story.

It was an accident, a coincidence; an incident on a bus my boyfriend was on. He didn't want to be interviewed about it but I ignored him and phoned the bus company anyway and told them I had a witness. When they confirmed, I manipulated him into being interviewed. After the buzz of praise from my editor wore off, I didn't feel good. All of my behaviour was completely out of character and I was ashamed. I kept my head down, took shorthand at the Sheriff Court and churned out press releases.

Months later, I found out the bus driver involved had lost her job. I worried about her. Did she have a mortgage to pay? Kids? How easy would it be for her to find another job? It's been five years now and I still think about her.

That summer, I got another internship with an Edinburgh news agency and found myself sitting in a car with a photographer I didn't know, trying to get an interview with the victims of a house fire. I'd learned the lesson of listening to my gut and simply buzzed the door and asked politely. They said no, which I took as my cue to leave but my editor was determined. I sat outside until the neighbours eventually asked me to go away. 

When I was interviewed by Channel 4 about the Scottish Referendum result, I chatted to the producer. She had a friend who'd worked for a big tabloid and had written a puff piece about a local child with cancer. When she phoned the family after a few months later to follow up and learned he'd died, she said: "Oh, great!" because a dead child makes a better story. It just slipped out. She went and handed her notice in that day. If that was her first reaction to the news of a child dying, something was wrong.

It took me a long time to realise that I wasn't enjoying myself. I was offered a job at the Edinburgh news agency, provided I learned to drive relatively soon, and I never did.

I lived in London for a year, working in retail. When I came back, I volunteered for a political magazine startup. I loved it - I did live coverage of conferences and wrote late into the night, every night. I was holding politicians to account without hurting anyone personally. I was interviewed by Sky News. Then the editor disappeared, taking all the subscription money with him and that was the end of that.

I'd love to write for a living one day. In the words of Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2, "If you wake up in the morning and all you can think of is writing, then you're a writer."  I guess I'm a writer then, but it will never be news. Never never never.