I have been a journalist for a good few years now and have written about all manner of things in that time, some of them challenging. But the articles I have always struggled with most are the ones like this; the ones about myself.
For a long time, I’ve thought that journalists (reporters and writers to be specific) were nature’s lurkers. The wallflowers. The ones sitting in the front row because they had to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Otherwise they’d be having a good old slouch at the back, in their natural habitat. Quite different from their wingman the photographer who’s right in amongst it, setting the scene, choreographing the tableau and generally bossing everyone around.
Despite the tabloid years, I never really thought of myself as a hack. More a ghost writer. Someone writing stories for people who weren’t able to write them for themselves. There was no place for “I” – horror of horrors – in this kind of writing. It was all about being as anonymous and self-effacing as possible.
So you had a byline, but you didn’t have your picture on it. Working on Glasgow’s Evening Times, for example, it wasn’t all that unusual to sit opposite someone on the tube as they read one of your stories. Then off they got at the next stop, newspaper stuffed in bag (or left on seat). Talk about a brief encounter.
Those days don’t just seem like a world away. It’s a whole different galaxy. Massive waves of redundancies – I was one of them, leaving the Daily Record in 2008 — have left their mark on the Scottish press. The nationals are getting by with skeleton crews and the local papers are down to such bare bones that it’s a wonder some of them are still in the game at all. We could talk about our once esteemed Stornoway Gazette here, but that’s maybe a post for another day…
Some jobs are just jobs, a means to an end. Some are careers. Others are professions or even vocations. To me being a journalist was an identity. But that keen identification with something outside yourself causes a problem when life moves on (I’m now a wife and a mum) and you’re no longer a fully paid up member of Her Majesty’s Press. Some people don’t miss the telling of stories. But if you do miss them, and you’re no longer with a paper, what do you do? Well that’s when you might just have to (whisper it)… start a blog.
To Blog or Not to Blog. Oh God, that is The Question. And while Hamlet had a whole load of existential angst about whether it was better to live or die — by his own hand, particularly — I think I might have it about blogging. The thought of putting myself out there is scaring the poor old ego half to death.
Pretty much any journalist I’ve ever known has at some point said something along the lines of “I’m just waiting for someone to find me out”. It’s a common mental frailty, that gets shored up when you’re a staffer because you’re part of a team with a newspaper title as your validation.
There’s none of that support when you go solo.
But here’s the thing. Maybe no-one is going to ‘find you out’ because maybe you were the real deal all along.
Yeah, you’re only as good as your last byline and, yeah, there’s lots of trolls under the bridge (I’m brave enough to do Twitter, people). But it has to be worth stepping out of the shadows and trying to write purely for its own sake.
With no newspaper title, editor or colleagues to hide behind, there is a nakedness in blogging, a vulnerability. What if you’re rubbish? What if I’M rubbish?!
Maybe bloggers tend to be bright young things not just because they are new media savvy, but because the young have less fear. Take fear out of the equation, and would it matter so much if you were Generation X, Y or Z?
Whatever. It gets to the stage that it’s either blogging or nothing. And I got fed up with the nothing. So it’s just you and me now, reader. I’ll try to make it worth your while.