So You Still Want To Be A Journalist?

Artwork: Emily O'Neil

CONTENT WARNING: War, Allusion to Sexism

 

“So, do you know what you want to do in your career?”

It’s the inevitable question that comes right after the awkward “How is Year 12?” or “How is uni?” Usually, it precedes the high-pitched, “ahh, interesting,” which attempts to conceal an overt scepticism. Or, “So what are you going to do with that?”

This question is probably one of my least favourites in the awkward ice breaker repertoire, which seems to be continually directed at every teenager or twenty-something. For me, it has always been a question after which I have had to sell myself, and to which I have numerous rebuttals. 

Because, what have I answered? For as long as I can remember, I have said that I want to be a fashion journalist.

Like every aspirational fashion journalist I know, I have wanted to be the editor-in-chief of Vogue. So, you can imagine the logistical nightmare for the ‘Gen X’ conversationalists with whom I have had the pleasure of interacting, as I have watched them squirm and relay, “Is that realistic?”

And for me, turning 20 this year, those three soul-crushing words are starting to echo on my personal conscience. 

Trust me, my rebuttal bank is seamless at this point: “How are you going to get there?” Well, I have read every ‘How to get into fashion journalism’ article you can find on Google. I have watched Alexa Chung’s The Future of Fashion series numerous times. My writing this article is part of my game plan, to write for as many publications as possible before leaving uni. My friends are probably tired at this point of hearing me talk about these illustrious ‘internships’ that I intend to secure with notable magazines and newspapers.

But, beyond the glowing guarantees of success posted by every ‘How-To’ guide on Google, YouTube and Facebook, my career trajectory is still as ambiguous as ever. And, it seems, it comes with the territory.

As Woroni celebrates its 70th anniversary, it seems pertinent to reflect on journalism then and now.

Drawing on my fashion knowledge, it seems most obvious to me to start by referencing the Women of Vogue exhibition, which arrived at the National Portrait Gallery late last year. Last year Vogue Australia celebrated its 60th anniversary. Reflecting on their archives, I was enthralled by the covers of the 1960s, which seemed to have a form of naivety and nostalgia, and a sense of magic which leads you to smile and sigh. This sigh is significant. It represents the recognition of a clear gap between the covers of ‘old’ and the new, which we now see.

Journalism now seems beset by cynicism and a sense of competition that has accompanied the rapid acceleration of change. Looking at the models on the covers of Vogue in the 1960s, there is a sense of slowness, stillness even. A lack of awareness to the broader cultural zeitgeist existing around the aura of fashion. 

However, looking at any newspaper or magazine today, this slowness has been transformed. There is a haste that accompanies feature spreads, as though journalists are aware that as their work is being written, it is inherently dated already. 

For me, reviewing the media landscape, of which Woroni is a part, means investigating the changing relationship between writers and readers. Nowadays, the distinction between the writer and their audience is blurred. No longer is there a single page devoted to the ‘Letter to the Editor’ section. Rather, people take to social media to voice their support or condemnation, and it cannot be as easily filtered.

When Woroni was first published in 1950, women were still incarcerated in a ‘cult of domesticity’. Because of my gender, I still couldn’t attend university. We had just emerged from one of the most destructive global conflicts the world had ever seen. And that coverage was still censored, words were blacked out, stories of victims lost in the abyss. By the 1960s, the television war in Vietnam exposed people to a world outside their bubble of security on Australian shores. Journalists were given a new responsibility to seek the truth, to go to the source of chaos, not to work around it.

In contemporary times, there is no space for glamour. There is no voyeuristic approach to covering human suffering. We are bombarded by it every day. And with this honesty comes an obligation to the public, who are increasingly able to spot the black sheep and call it out. We are a smarter audience, more active listeners. With the growth of the media landscape comes a growth of information, and we are vigilant fact-checkers. There is no space for ‘fake news’, which most likely characterised the majority of news that existed in the 1950s. 

With the growth of blogs and social media influencers, traditional office spaces once designed for large publications are being transformed. As of now, the office space for writers is more often their living room couch. Freelance writing has exploded, where the job of the writer is no longer simply to write, but to edit, photograph, and design. The ‘slashie’, or ‘triple-threat’ as applied to the entertainment industry, has expanded into journalism.

Amidst this cacophony of voices and competing obligations that characterise the industry of journalism, there is the pressing question: “Is journalism dead?”

And it is a genuine concern. But, like how the 1950s did not look the same as the 1960s, let alone the 2020s, change is not necessarily something to be feared. The journalistic landscape of today, whilst not offering as much job security in the traditional sense, is freer, louder, and responsible for the continual destruction of traditional conventions.

Throughout the feminist movements, we have reported. Throughout war crimes and ideological conflicts, we have reported. We have broken stories exposing the corruption of the banking industry. We have uncovered the censorship of news by media moguls intended to dissuade public sympathies on certain controversial issues. Whilst no longer desk-bound, there will always be a responsibility to write. To be honest. To have integrity.

So, whilst my rebuttals to the questions of the validity and usefulness of a career in journalism are prepped and ready, I am not naïve. I know that the media landscape is vastly changing. Whilst there is a depressing undercurrent to the discussion of the future of journalism, which speaks of bite-size news and ‘one-minute read’ feature articles, I believe there remains an optimism. There will always be platforms available to allow individuals to have a voice. There will always be news which needs to be reported. 

Woroni has prevailed despite this cultural change to journalism. It is a case study in the continued merit and value of authentic voices. It fuels the passion of youths like myself, who are determined to write stories and perpetuate the legacy of thoughtful conversation.

My response to the question of “So what are you going to do?” elicits a degree of concern, but at the same time it excites me. Perhaps the position ‘The editor-in-chief of Vogue’ will have a new name by the time I am old enough to compete for it. But despite its transformation, my aspirations for a journalistic future will prevail. Having a voice is as old as democracy itself. And so, as long as the constitutional right prevails, journalism will always ensure my voice, and all our voices, are heard.

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