It’s been two months since I left my job as a newspaper staff photographer to run my own business, focusing on wedding photography. Because I made the jump just as wedding season was starting, I’ve stayed busy — so I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect on my decision. But when I have taken a moment to look back, I’ve realized there are some things I really miss.
I miss the friendships. The friends I made in the newsroom are still my friends, but it’s different now. Several of us have moved on and left the newspaper business, so we no longer have that common subject to discuss (or gripe about), and we don’t see each other as often anymore. We schedule a cookout or dinner together every month or so to try to stay in touch, but our conversations usually drift back to our time together at the newspaper and what is happening to the industry right now.
Bonding in the Heat and Rain
My friends and I had a lot of great times and bonded when the assignments were tough. The bond that comes from hours of suffering in the heat or standing in driving rain to get the story is tough to describe — or to replicate. I think there’s also something about a journalist’s personality that makes it easy for us to befriend one another. In just a few years, we bonded like college roommates; now, I feel like I have graduated and moved on. Even though I still live nearby, we may as well be states apart.
I also miss the friendships and acquaintances I made on my assignments. The farmer or mother or teacher that I would spend hours with — getting to know them intimately in a short time, and sometimes learning more about myself in the process. The knowledge and experience gained by being around people from disparate backgrounds is one of the great job perks of working for a newspaper.
Learning firsthand how things work, seeing how people live and capturing the full range of human emotion has a way of making you feel like you are witnessing every aspect of life on a daily basis. I covered a Navy homecoming recently and was reminded of the richness of life when you are out there witnessing it. I plan to get out there a little more often on a freelance basis, because now I have more freedom to choose what I witness.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy covering weddings. It’s one of the most important days in most people’s lives, and I enjoy creating a beautiful one-day picture story for my clients. It is a lot harder than covering a football game and, in many ways, a lot more rewarding. I get to hear positive feedback from the couples who love their photographs and tell me I did a wonderful job — and how all their friends and relatives love the photos, too. That kind of enthusiastic feedback from the subject is rarely heard while working at the newspaper, and now I get to hear it weekly. It almost makes up for the occasional pat on the back I used to get from a newspaper colleague.
What I Don’t Miss
I definitely don’t miss newspapers as a business. I don’t miss the perpetual fear of being laid off. I don’t miss the constant complaints from colleagues about low pay, long hours, or the need for better mileage reimbursement. I don’t miss the never-ending employer demands to do more with less, shoot for the Web, and work extra hours with the empty promise of comp time.
I don’t miss putting my heart and soul (and personal time) into a story that I thought was important to tell, only to see the photos never run in print and get posted online three days late, while getting no feedback or appreciation from anyone. My husband is still at the newspaper, so I still get to hear about what isn’t being covered, what we aren’t doing, and how things are being restructured again in another futile attempt to halt the downward spiral.
No, I don’t miss being around that negativity anymore, and yes, I am still happy that I left.
Today’s newsroom is not the fun place full of the kind of fond memories about which I now reminisce. It is a sad and tired place where empty seats outnumber full ones, and no one is putting their heart in anything except for getting out. The place I remember, full of energy and passionate people who dedicated their lives to telling stories about everyone else’s lives, is now part of the past. It’s a memory I feel fortunate to have.