SPJ Reading Room
To be young and in the middle of nowhere
By Renée Petrina
You’re young. You’re upwardly mobile. You’re ... lonely.
I’ve had to explain it hundreds of times: In our industry, to move up, you have to move out. Broadcasters move to a larger market. Print reporters and editors to larger paper. On the Web, a major company’s site could have offices almost anywhere. For many of us, reaching our career goals means reaching outside our comfort zones and living somewhere else.
|About Renée Petrina|
Renée Petrina, like most Gen J-ers, is in flux. As she writes this bio, she's about to leave one job and start another. Neither position pays as much as her engineering pals got straight out of college, and neither is close to home. But that's just how young journalists roll — to move up, you move on, living frugally, dreaming of the day when we'll be SDX-contributing high-rollers. Even in a new city, she can count on old friends (thanks, SPJ!) because of the connected nature of the business.
By profession, Renée is a newspaper copy editor, but she's also reported, shot photos, been "talent" for live shots on TV, and run training seminars. She's been told she has the personality of a crackerjack reporter, and enjoys breaking stereotypes of the quiet, angry copy editor. But she's still ruthless with the editing pen, and your copy (print or broadcast) will benefit from it. Petrina loves journalism, but she knows it isn't everything. She also enjoys baking, walking large-breed dogs, hanging out with her cat, dancing until 3 a.m., and fighting the good fight.
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And that means leaving friends behind.
Six months ago, I moved to the Midwest. From Florida. In late October. Aside from suffering the summer heat and switching directly to the cold (almost all of February was below freezing, and after a teaser of warmth the mercury’s about to drop again), there’s the holiday factor. I moved right before the Holiday Trifecta that starts with turkey and goes through the New Year. And it seemed everyone in my new city already had plans. New girl was out of luck, at home, with the cat (and the darn cat didn’t get me a Christmas present).
It took until February for me to really find a groove. And that groove involved a critical component: Not work.
There’s a social theory (from Robert D. Putnam) called bowling alone — the idea that American civic involvement has been steadily declining. Offshoot studies, including a social isolation census that came out of Duke University last year, have found people have fewer close friends than in the past.
I propose another theory — bowling in the newsroom. Journalists flock to other journalists. It’s the same with other upwardly mobile professions as well: Young people move to new cities for new career options, and the first people they meet are coworkers. But I promise, there are other people out there. When you find them, it is very fulfilling.
Four months into my new job, I have a bunch of “regulars” that I head out with — and not one is a coworker. We are brought together by shared interests.
The Web: It’s your No. 1 resource as a journalist and should be your No. 1 for a social life, too. Meetup groups offer social events for newbies to some areas. If you have a dog, you can join a dog park or similar meetup to make friends that way. Also, though I generally hate them, social networking sites can track down a lot of pals. I’m not saying to randomly visit folks you found online, but work from the people you already know. By keeping in touch with pals in other cities, I met three friends-of-friends here who have been very welcoming. And don’t forget the folks you left at your old job — networking sites can be a way to keep in touch.
Volunteerism: It’s good for your community and good for you. You’ll meet new friends. And it’s free (which for Gen J-ers is always important.). In my last city, the humane society became my family. Here, I teach kids about dinosaurs.
Alumni: If you went to college, you likely have an alumni association. I found my university’s local alumni association in the first week I got here, and ended up going with them to a Big Ten football game. Fresh from Florida, I was freezing my tail off, but we won, and I made connections with people in many industries who had plenty of advice for a newbie to town.
Your job: Most media companies track calendars of things to do, reviews of good restaurants, and more. Some even create visitor’s guides. Use these resources. Not only does it teach you about your new city, but it gives you ideas of places to go. Occasionally you can beg a coworker to join you at one of these events, or find other pals (alumni, social networking, etc.)
History: Learn about your new city. I hit up the Indiana State Museum, all by my lonesome, to learn more about all things Hoosier. The museum and the state history center also gave me some great ideas for day trips. Once the snow stops, I might actually go on a few. Also, when you learn more about your new digs, you’ll be able to do your job better.
You can’t rely on your coworkers to show you around. Sure, they’ll take you under their wings at first, but the novelty soon wears off and they go back to the lives they had before you got there. If you’re lucky, you’ll click instantly with someone and have a fast friend — I had that in my past job, and I miss those people terribly. But many of those friends were Gen J-ers, too, and will eventually move on (and out of town) to bigger and better journalistic things. It’s the nature of the beast.
Getting out of the office and getting a life is good for your sanity. If we hide in our cubicles, how can we cover and reflect the communities we are a part of? So, get a life — it’s good for journalism.
Renée Petrina is a copy editor at The Indianapolis Star.