If I learned one thing from a certain professor at Marquette it was that the journalism field is VERY small. Everyone knows everyone else. One mess up and you could ensure your jobless state for years to come. And when you work in a certain niche that field becomes even smaller. (For instance one of my last freelancing gigs came from a former co-worker and required speaking with a former boss - SMALL World!)
But this isn't a post about burning bridges... I've written that one before.
Instead this is about lending a hand to a fellow writer. I've found that in this field people are often unwilling to go out of their way to help a fellow professional. I don't know if it is the competitive nature of the field, or the often insane schedules we keep. But whatever it is I've run up against my fair share of brick walls.
When I was a recent graduate I moved to New York in the hopes of landing the job of a lifetime. No one tells you the job of a lifetime is NEVER going to be your first job. Anyway, I went with a list of former Marquette students who now worked in the journalism or PR fields. One by one I contacted these alumni and asked for a 10 minute informational interview. I assured them all I really wanted to do was pick their brains about the field and the NYC market. Of all the people I contacted only two responded and agreed to offer me a meeting. A couple told me they were much too busy to see me but wished me luck. Others outright ignored my request.
As I've moved on in my career, (Sidenote: I can't complain too much since one of these contacts turned into my first job) I began to realize this is not just something a new professional runs up against. Many fellow journalists are unwilling to offer advice or support to those trying to make it.
When I moved to St. Louis, with a number of reputable jobs under my belt and a fairly good looking portfolio, I reached out to a fellow alum who also happened to have a mutual friend of mine. Two emails and one un-returned phone call I realized this local writer wasn't going to offer any support or thoughts on landing a job here. I let it go and moved on to other resources.
I've been contacted by a number of journalism majors asking my thoughts on a specific matter or internship. When I respond, at least half the people thank me and admit I am the only one who offered support and encouragement. No, I didn't get them a job, but at least I helped direct the search or their craft.
Why is it so impossible for journalists to remember the people who helped them get to where they are today and offer that same support to another?
Is this something that is unique to journalism or is this a global phenomenon?
PS The idea for this post came after a fellow alum helped me land a new freelancing gig today. I've ever so grateful to him, especially since he breaks the mold and is willing to lend a hand.