I always wanted to be a reporter. I am not sure why. I think I always saw in it a nice way to combine my interest in people and their lives and my love for story-telling. But mostly, a job without a set schedule and the opportunity to sleep late every day. I made the right choices to get there: Ivy League journalism school, internships and work experience in major news agencies, travels, and all sorts of training not to mention the compulsive networking. I didn't expect that the internet would pretty much make my skills worth very little money and crush my dreams.
So here I am today. I left New York to go back home to Morocco. I tried to work here at first with the local news agencies. I worked for a terrific independent investigative magazine. But after six months there, the government shut us down and we were all jobless. My choices came down to: work for outlets that undergo constant censorship or try to freelance for foreign papers.
Let's just say that "freelancer" is sometimes a fancier word for unemployed. I really wish someone had told me that! I would have gone to law school.
The freelance world is brutal. It is definitely an option if not a last resort before a career change -- at least in my case. Especially when you come from a country where no U.S. forces are posted -- it doesn't hold enough interest. So, I decided to call myself "a stay-at-home reporter" because indeed, I do stay at home a lot.
Let me take you in a day with people who do what I do:
9:30-10 a.m.: Waking up. Not having any appointments really or a schedule set for the day. This reporter makes sure to get enough sleep to face the day ahead. Turns on the radio and listens to the news while making breakfast. The reporter then turns on his laptop, and while drinking a big cup of coffee to get enough strength for the strenuous work ahead, he reads all the funny emails he got from other fellow stay-at-home reporter friends recommending blogs mocking hipsters, articles on the latest haircut trend, youtube videos of unicorns singing etc. He spends two hours responding to these funny emails and sending some of his own -- he also skypes with friends scattered all over the world who really don't have much on their plate either.
12 p.m.: After suddenly starting to worry about the reality of his bank account and the absolute necessity to look for a good story to pitch to a great deal of not-so-friendly editors, he starts making a few phone calls and doing some research on the Internet to find out if there is a story behind the way the too friendly congregation at the church down the street or find out if his neighbors are pissed because a Mexican Bar with loud music opened last week. He then gets side tracked by chatting with other reporters on Gmail and one tells him about this really funny website called fml.com and after an hour of reading all the posts, our reporter realizes he's exhausted from all the efforts and needs to go out to stretch his legs, possibly grab a bite to eat and maybe meet up with a friend.
He decides to grab his laptop (absolutely necessary to do his work) and heads to a coffee shop.
2 p.m.: By the time he gets to the coffee shop that is located four blocks away from his house, he sits down, orders another coffee to get the much needed energy and checks his e-mails. He's gotten some responses from editors who took the time to write back. He of course loses his appetite for a few minutes after reading the usual "Hi, thank you for your interest. We are REALLY not looking for any additional writers at the moment, I hope your story finds a home." Or some other editor will write, "We are not interested in these kinds of stories." That same editor responded the same thing a month earlier and to our reporter's great dismay the story was in the newspaper a few days after he sent his pitch -- that has got to piss one off.
Our reporter gets sad for a few minutes and calls another fellow journalist to talk about his future. He doesn't understand why it is so hard to get work. With all his talent, his experience, his degree from a Journalism School, why can't he get the recognition he deserves? He then starts thinking about career changes and looks on Craigslist for things he could do. Tutor kids? Too exhausting and not paid well enough. Work at a doctor's office for a few months to save some money and report on the side? Too boring. Oh! Work for a travel magazine, that way he can travel and work and not worry about paying rent? Impossible to find out who hires travel writers. Are they even real people? Then he thinks about maybe going back to school and getting a degree in something else but quickly realizes that every career with a secure perspective is something that would bore him too much. He decides to stick to journalism....for now.
4 p.m.: Time to brainstorm with other friends with what future there is in this dying industry. His very good friend reassures him and they both tell themselves all the lies you need to tell yourself to stay in this profession: "Don't worry, it's just now that it's hard. It is always hard in the beginning, I am sure it will get better very soon."
Another friend comes up with a better idea: "Let's go back to school, study drug dealing, and sell drugs to all the disenchanted journalists out there!"
5 p.m: The stay-at-home reporter then heads back home. Before going up to his apartment, checks his mailbox to find two Netflix movies, one of them is this Iranian documentary he's been dying to watch and decides to do so while doing work. The documentary is so captivating that he puts down his computer and focuses on the film. However, a little voice in his head keeps on whispering, "Stop being a loser, go online and market your pitches." The reporter ignores the voice in his head and continues watching.
7:15 p.m.: The documentary ends. It's time to go out and have drinks. A friend said he must meet this girl who works at New York magazine. He decides to go. Networking never hurts.
11 p.m.: Gets back home. Still no replies from editors. The reporter is a bit sad but doesn't lose hope that something good will eventually come.
After several days of extreme hard work and intensive efforts, he finally gets an email telling him to go ahead and do a story. It's not paid that well. But it's better than nothing, the reporter tells himself!
That always gives him the necessary push to continue doing this job. No one really knows how he pays his rent or buys his food but he seems to manage well.
When he thinks of the future, the stay-at-home reporter of course foresees himself reporting all over the world, writing books, defending the poor and the oppressed -- he just doesn't know when he will finally get there.
"That day will come," he repeatedly tells himself before falling into a deep sleep full of dreams of pens, notebooks, and Pulitzer Prizes.