As I was promised, my first job out of journalism school was not at The New York Times.
Before I found myself hearing this news in a lecture hall last summer, surrounded by would-be writers, reporters, and fellow “boot campers,” I was admittedly naive about the journalism industry. (I didn’t actually have secret, grand designs for The New York Times until I started reading it like a mad person in graduate school.) I knew enough to know I wanted to be a part of the journalism world, and I knew that I wanted it more than I wanted to go to law school.
The little story I tell about my career choice largely hinges on a gut feeling, building up the way I felt the moment I opened my acceptance email. It goes like this: In the summer before my senior year at SUNY Geneseo, I was spending my hot July and August days prepping for law school and getting ready to take over as editor-in-chief of my beloved college newspaper, The Lamron. I had taken a handful of logic and jurisprudence-philosophy classes, and loved them, and followed up by interning at a Rochester law firm, and taking an online LSAT course. I liked the law firm; The people were nice and they did good, honest work. (They were plaintiffs’ attorneys representing classes of retired folks who had lost their nest eggs after hooking up with some unscrupulous brokers.) I liked the LSAT class; I discovered that I could multi-task during it, by consuming alcoholic beverages with my friends while following along with the tutor.
I loved The Lamron. I spent as much time as possible in the dusty old office, tucked into the college union’s mailroom. I cleaned it, I reorganized the desks for maximum-concentration efficiency. I tossed out decades-old, yellowing, excess copies of the paper and archived the rest of the precious dead trees. I poured over old volumes in search of hidden treasures to dig up. And the following year, I slept on the office’s stinky orange couch after editing and re-reading every inch of copy on Wednesday nights into Thursday mornings.
My post-undergraduate life came down to a gut feeling: That’s really how I ended up at ‘Cuse, which is kind of strange, because I am, for better or for worse, a 5-year plan kind of person.
When I talk to people about their lives (which I do a lot — the topic is a great interview opener), I probably annoy them a little and pressure them a lot with my questions about what they want to do with their lives and what is important to them and how they are going to achieve their goals. I think my obsession with the next step has something to do with spending the last 20 years of my life in an educational system obsessed with next-step thinking. Whatever the reason, I am always “cultivating” my next move. (I like to describe it with this word as frequently as possible, after a good and compliment-giving friend of mine described me that way.)
So, it was no surprise that a master’s degree later, I was living in Brooklyn, working in Manhattan, getting paid to write. It was a blast. It was a ton of work, just like I’d always seen myself doing — being the kind of New York woman who invests more time and effort into my job than anything else. I was an editorial intern at an award-winning magazine. I was actually reporting and writing every day, which meant I got to learn about the law and the law profession, of all things. I wrote about important trends in the field, quirks of law firm bankruptcies, judges across the country, and space lawyers — I think I may have even invented a thing or contributed to the acknowledgement a thing’s existence with that last one!
This was about the time when I started to realize this: Journalism school taught me to be obsessed with my profession. Life afterward taught me that everyone else is too.
Granted, I was (and am) writing for a trade publication, but it was apparent outside of work, too. The ubiquitous question naturally went from ‘what are you studying?’ to ‘what do you do for a living?’
This transition suits me nicely. I have a fun and not often-heard answer, as a legal reporter. The great thing about the law is that it lends itself to investigative journalism. From a news hound’s perspective, the industry is pretty cut-throat, yearning for fresh perspectives, experiencing disruption, and the people in law are generally interesting and well-spoken. It has its down sides, too. Namely, if I may be so bold, I will explain the greatest negative of my job: Lawyers thrive on — it is their life blood, to no fault of theirs — knowing more than everyone else about a highly specific set of information. That set of information usually involves something confidential and its dissemination has real, or at least reasonably perceived, consequences. This means that lawyers are very careful in the revelation of their knowledge. At its best, this means eloquence and deliberation. At its worst, this means evasion and manipulation. It’s challenging. It’s exciting.
It’s why I moved to Boston, a recent development that was not part of any plan of mine.
I realized that if I was going to go all in and partake in this profession-obsession, I would need a job that was going to be good to me. New York was not a place where I could find that. The New York Times must have been on a hiring freeze? I found it here instead, at Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. No, trade publications were not my first choice. Neither was Boston. Neither was law. No, for the 18th time this week, I am not a lawyer. Today, I am not penning my magnus opum. (Obviously: I’m 23, and haven’t even started my first novel.)
But this week, I’ll have my byline on a 2,000 word article (plus a sidebar) on the ins and outs of medical marijuana law in Massachusetts, that I got to spent the last two months researching, reporting, writing and revising. I think, but know better than to promise myself, it’s going to be on A1. I have a writing coach! I have good editors, nice colleagues (there is a bagel club at the office!) and health insurance. So right now, I’m just doing best not to think too far ahead.