Why I became a journalist aka I really wanted to be in Press Gang

... only to realise it's more like The Good, The Bad, And The Consistently F*cking Ugly

There was a good chance I could’ve ended up as a primary school teacher. If — and it’s an IF so big you could stick it on the Hollywood Hills — I am talented as a writer (the jury is still out, mostly in the comment sections of articles I’ve now forgotten that I even wrote), I was even more talented as a teacher of tiny kids. Even now, my friends’ children who are between 3 and 10 snap into line when I meet them, detecting both a kindred spirit and someone who really has no time for their more pungent bullshit.

That’s what I went to Cambridge to study. I have a 2:1 in Education and I enjoyed the school placements I did. I wrote what I’m told is the first dissertation to be submitted to the English Faculty on the novels of Ian Rankin and I was heavily involved in student politics in the practical sense (I was Entertainments Officer then Vice-President of the student union at my college as well as on the University Courts of Justice as a rep defending people who faced being chucked out).

I also did stand-up and directed an ADC show called ‘A Brief History of Stupidity’ that actually got laughs and made a profit. But there was a dangerous addiction I picked up… I wrote for the student papers, The Cambridge Student and the more prestigious Varsity.

I had been good at writing since I could put letters in the correct order and I took to the student press like a gobshite duck to water filled with pissed sharks. The thrill and narcissistic hit of seeing my name in a byline was enough to push me off course.

I decided not to go on and do a PGCE like so many of my smarter friends and instead followed graduation with a summer as entertainment coordinator for a language camp then aced the interview to become Staff Writer for Pensions World magazine, a trade magazine based in Croydon.

I couldn’t afford to take up internships or unpaid gigs at bigger titles that offered them to me or to throw yet more money at education by going to City to get a piece of paper that said I was officially A Journalist. Instead, I cut my teeth on Pensions World, learning shorthand in my own time, getting the hand of proofing marks, learning to deal with designers and getting interviewing experience talking to actual government ministers and senior executives.

When I applied for be Stuff Magazine’s News Editor — having been promoted to Assistant Editor of Pensions World and supervised a Staff Writer when the Editor was out — I was so ready. I nailed the interview again and joined the best team I’ve ever worked with, a pirate crew of gadget geeks who managed just to put out a great issue every month and was fanatical at putting a better product out than our frenemies at T3. I should have stayed at Stuff for longer but I was tempted by the forbidden fruit of an editor’s job at Q magazine.

I was 24 years old. That’s precious to be a section editor on a music magazine unless it’s NME, and I now understand why I was about as welcome as a fart in a diving bell. But I got more good experience and feel like the scars I got from Q are useful somehow. After that… the dark jungles of freelance, writing about politics and running towards actual danger. That’s for another day and another newsletter.

So why did I become a journalist?

Ego.

I like seeing my words in print or blinking at me from a screen. What came later was a desire to get justice for people who have been denied it and a feeling of satisfaction when I get to tell stories that are otherwise ignored. But all of that stuff was learned.

Similarly, while I adored Press Gang and watched it in repeats religiously, I didn’t become a journalist because I’d always wanted to be one. I wanted to write — and I’m on course now to publish some fiction and maybe even get a screenplay made — but I didn’t imagine as a child that I would be running around with a press card sticking out of the band of my trilby.

A lot of journalists serve up self-serving bullshit reasons for being in the business. If they don’t also mention ego, they’re lying to themselves too. Journalism is showbiz for smart arses just like politics is the equivalent for the physically and spiritually ugly.

Comments are open for everyone on this one. Play nice or get bounced.