On leaving journalism behind (for now)
After taking a job outside of journalism, I'm reconsidering how I define myself.
In 9th grade, at 14 years old, I received my first journalism assignment: a review of “The Social Network” for the school newspaper. With no clue how to begin, and zero understanding of what a movie review was, I set out to discern fiction from fact in Aaron Sorkin’s Facebook biopic. My editor — then a very talented junior who would go on to earn his undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School before reporting for the country's oldest newspaper — returned the draft to me with revisions on a Sunday night, while I laid on my mom’s bedroom floor watching TV. I felt grown up.
I don’t remember how the story turned out, but I do remember the thrill of seeing the issue strewn about in my math class a couple weeks later, my name etched in print for the first time.
I spent the next decade and change considering myself A Journalist.
The summer after graduating from high school, I emailed the then-news editor of Pipe Dream, Binghamton University’s student-run newspaper, with more than one question. Weeks later, a sticky note with the date of the paper’s first general interest meeting was one of the first items to adorn my dorm room desk.
If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably know the rest of the story. The Pipe Dream office became my second home on campus for the next four years, and then I got a job at Time Magazine as an assistant to an incredible journalist who was herself a Pipe Dream alumna. And then I became an actual reporter at that very real magazine, and then I became a reporter at another news outlet, where I got to write about far-right extremism and the insidious online spread of conspiracy theories.
Honestly, it’s an insane story! I’ve been wildly lucky to be in more than one proverbial room where things happen, to work in a field that I came of age idolizing. Journalism is the first draft of history — and it’s a profession that I believe is tantamount to a healthy democracy.
Which is why it’s so crazy that I am no longer a journalist.
I’m now… a person who lives in New York and works in advertising.
The thing is, this was undoubtedly the right decision. I am happier and more excited in this role, using what I’ve learned through my reporting experience in a new way.
But the change has made me question how I perceive myself, and how others will perceive me.
When I considered this job offer, what will people think? was a constant refrain in my mind. It felt embarrassing to make it in journalism and then “leave” so quickly — to be so ungrateful to have the career I’d always wanted. Worse yet, I feared people would judge me for ceasing to commit the majority of my week to work I consider so important.
One thought stuck out the most, the constant thorn in my pondering.
If I’m not a journalist, then who — and what — am I?
I don’t necessarily have an answer to that question. But here’s what I know to be true.
I live in New York.
I am a friend and daughter and step-daughter and sister and granddaughter and niece and cousin. I’m a writer and singer and thespian and TV-lover and anxiety-haver and gym-goer and a person who works in advertising.
I have a lot of energy and I love to laugh and I love to love. Previously, I was a journalist.
I use too many “I” statements in my writing and I didn’t meal-prep today like I planned.
I like honesty and sincerity and having crushes and working hard. I love red wine and cold ice water.
I love to work — to be challenged, to solve problems, to collaborate and keep busy and learn.
I love being a person in all ways, all permutations and meanings.
Today, I may not be a journalist.
But I am a million things that I think are more important than my career.
My name is Rachel.
It’s nice to meet you.
This is the first issue of Rach Ruminates that was published after two wines — she’s growing up, folks!
Thank you for reading. I’ll see you next weekend.