The Excessive Demands of the Media Industry: My Own Story

Journalism is becoming as elusive a trade as the pursuit of professional athletics.

This is going to be more of a personal entry inspired by Katherout’s “I no longer aspire to have a career” YouTube video in which she talks about the intoxicating features of Silicon Valley’s obsession with work and productivity, and although not explicitly related to the tech industry in any meaningful way, there were enough parallels to warrant talking about my own struggles with work as a concept, and the amount I’m expected to put in if I have even the smallest shot of making it into journalism as a long-term, financially-viable professional pursuit.

Before I made the jump to Substack in April earlier this year, I had blogged on Medium for about four years, the latter part of which were particularly intense because of a conception in my mind—one that didn’t take long to shatter—about how to attain a gig in the media industry, one that ascribed to the highly erroneous notion of meritocracy. I distinctly remember listening to a Q&A session on Kotaku Splitscreen where a certain notable journalistic figure by the name of Jason Schreier had suggested to a reader inquiring about how to get into the press to just produce “good clips” and have the pieces fall where they may afterwards. I—perhaps naively—took that advice to heart and went ballistics on content on the blog, reaching its maximum output at an entry every two days in April of 2019, a period during which I felt incredibly energized to fast-track the most laborious part of industry qualifications because I simply couldn’t withstand to wait that much longer to finally do the only thing I’ve ever been really good at.

It seemed initially like there was some pay-off with readers coming in consistently by the thousands to check out my stories on BreadTube drama, and even the occasional derisive media commentary on rabble-rousers such as NYT’s Bret Stephens, but all of it seemed really for naught as the year of COVID took everything by wind and shot my chances of getting into the industry dead in the water. Editors of Medium’s in-house publications who’d previously expressed interest backed off and never initiated contact again, and whatever little juice I had for pitching stories and settling with the humiliation of not even warranting a response was completely depleted at that point–I realize saying this that I could’ve made a more concerted effort and forced myself upon editors until something came of it, but I took a passive approach because I could no longer cope with the recurrent rejections—sometimes for reasons all-too-ridiculous—and it’d cost me any momentum I had previously built with fewer flashes of relevance to put me back on the map later on.

Talking about blogging—the natural entry point to proper journalism—as a competition in celebrity isn’t the misnomer one might expect it to be. Before I had built the acumen for good stories and even chased some of my own with interviews later on, websites like Indeed were a regular staple in my browsing history as I kept sifting through the lowest-hanging fruit in the hopes of landing as much as a D-grade magazine job so it would look mildly appealing on my resume–given that I’d dropped out of college only after one semester and J-school was all but useless for the modern iteration of the practice, it only seemed fitting to go after those gigs regardless of how poor my conception was of my own worth at the time. Still after numerous attempts, none of what I chased had materialized, I became ever-hopeless about locking in a career in journalism, and as time goes on, I’m slowly more compelled by the idea of blogging purely as a hobby given that my attempts to successfully monetize it were well… quite unsuccessful.

It’s not just that readers don’t feel like the value proposition of paying for words is very poor if not downright scandalous, but the spoils made in the media industry often feel more like value statements than investing in the noble and high-minded aspirations of the trade. People throw piles of cash at Glenn Greenwald and his ilk because they do so in defiance of the media’s reticence to accept their contrarian rhetoric as anything worth a single damn, but for someone like me who is already several layers beneath the ideal archetype of a journalist—one that is white, straight, male and of affluent upbringing—it was pretty much folly from the start to even entertain the notion of a fair competition.

I will continue blogging because I’ve ultimately surrendered to the fact that my words deserve inking, and even more so, they deserve to be spoken and heard. It’s downright self-abusive to continue this work despite being effectively compensated for it less than a single cent on the word, but I refuse to give up–I believe that in a fair and free society, journalism can only thrive if fresh blood is given the freedom they so crave to tell their stories, no matter how sloppy or incoherent they may sound. That’s not an issue I have to contend with since years of doing it have dulled the edge on my worst instincts, but let those who wish to write for a living at least get a feel for it, lest they’re driven by simple will to live into a life of glorified indentured servitude, one where the similitude of routine work bludgeons their brains into accepting mundanity and repetition as the normal course of life.

Is this ultimately a pitch for myself to be saved from the throes of existential dread as I failed to convert my talent into labor I’m proud of and sufficiently paid for? It could very well be. My own financial emancipation is however only secondary to our pressing necessity for dissolving the legacy structure of journalism, taking instead ever-greater risks in the hopes of recovering from the near-devastating blow the industry was dealt by COVID last year. While a live plague couldn’t kill the industry, our unwillingness to let go of old conventions might finally be what puts it to rest–if we act now there may yet be something to save, but as it stands, I see it only heading towards ruin and irrevocable demise.