Monday, May 30, 2005

"Caste and Class" Pt. 2

I enjoyed reading "Caste and Class" (refer to previous entry for link) because of its relevance to some things I've been thinking about lately. I've started to think seriously about what I want to do with my expected journalism degree. It seems that in any sort of privileged setting, everyone there is expected to have ambitious career goals. I did choose New York University partly because the media industry is so concentrated in New York City. But I think from the beginning of grad school I had the sense that I might not stay, and the longer I'm here the more I feel that way.

In "Caste and Class," Goldman writes about working for the Washington Post. He came from a working-class background and felt like an imposter at the Post, where, he says, "I was surrounded by reporters, male and female, who were younger versions of [executive editor Ben] Bradlee. ... Other younger employees could find mentors in the upper reaches of the Post to help them through difficulties, but I had no idea how to do any of that." Goldman decided to leave the Post and eventually became a boxing writer.

Now that I think about it, maybe his article isn't as relevant to my experience as I thought it was. He seems to regret what he did, after realizing why he felt the way he did: "There's something called the imposter syndrome. When people advance quickly, they can create a gap between how others see them and how they see themselves. They believe they're protecting the secret of terrible inadequacies and are in constant fear they will be unmasked."

Either way, I can sympathize with his experience at the Post. Although I'm not from a working-class background, I appreciate his observation that one's talent only partly determines one's success in the newsroom. Being able to fit in with the newsroom culture -- with the culture of any working environment, for that matter -- also indicates whether or not one will survive there.

If New York City is the center of the American media industry, I also see it as relentlessly corporate and competitive. I don't know if that's the kind of environment I want to be in.

On a slightly related note, I recently read Laura Hillenbrand's "A Sudden Illness," published in the Jul. 7, 2003, issue of the New Yorker. Hillenbrand is the author of one of my favorite books, Seabiscuit.

Hillenbrand came down with chronic fatigue syndrome while studying at Kenyon College. Despite having to drop out and despite her illness, she went on to become a freelance writer on equine issues and a bestselling author.

Two stories from writers who found their niche. It makes me wonder whether or not that's what I should spend my time doing: thinking less about available jobs in journalism and more about the topics that I feel passionately about as a writer.

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