If an analyst had charted my enthusiasm for becoming a journalist, they would have graphed a steep plunge from total commitment in my first semester at Ryerson, to roughly naught by the end of my second year.
It’s not that my interest in journalism as an institution has diminished – given all that’s going on right now consuming journalism is more a daily obligation than ever. But I’ve seen the machinery that propels this industry forward, and the cogs are looking battered.
This summer, I was faced with finding an internship placement to round out my education at the Ryerson School of Journalism. Vague, general job descriptions clearly written as an afterthought pervaded the RSJ job boards, but one of very few exceptions was the post for Glance Marketing.
Among the single-paragraph, cookie cutter job descriptions was their two-page PDF that listed specific tasks with more enthusiasm than the rest of the postings combined. This was the answer I didn’t know I was looking for.
Marketing draws upon many of the same skills as modern journalism.
In fact, the two are tied in a cycle of competition and mimicry that I have now experienced from both sides. The difference is that marketing is always one step ahead. Marketing is about creating content people want to consume, while journalism creates content people need to consume.
If this sounds like a criticism of journalism, it’s not. The inherent challenge of modern journalism is to draw attention to important issues without compromising the integrity of the message. Toeing that line can feel like you’re devoting more effort to dressing up the truth than expressing it. It’s hard, important work, but it’s less rewarding by the day.
In marketing, you don’t have to disfigure the truth in order to find it an audience. Instead, you take an audience and bring them the information that they want, even if they don’t know they want it yet. The truth stays intact, because you’ve selected it specifically for this purpose.
Of course, there are challenges. Any writing skills I learned at Ryerson are easily adaptable to marketing, but the nature of the workload is very different. A single writing assignment is less time consuming than in journalism, but the rate of content production is higher.
Along with the heightened workload, marketing adds the challenge of writing for disparate audiences. The tone I assume for an auto repair shop will not work for a law firm. In the course of a day, I might switch voices half a dozen times.
Out of this constant fluctuation develops personal resourcefulness. Bouncing back and forth between multifarious writing tasks feels like learning to drive stick: the transitions start off clunky and unnatural, but they soon become a smooth function of the subconscious.
After nearly six weeks, I have become a more efficient writer. My previous habit, honed by university and freelance writing assignments, was to write with unquenchable vigour for one or two hours, usually in the middle of the night. Working at Glance, I adapted to full days of writing at lower intensity – and lower stress.
I don’t know where I’m going next. A semester and a half still awaits me at Ryerson, and then I’m free. Maybe I’ll sail to Panama in a beat-up Contessa 26. Maybe I’ll live in British Columbia for a while and hone my mountain biking skills at Whistler. Maybe I’ll retreat to a log cabin with a bottle of whiskey and become yet another Hemmingway wannabe.
Whatever I do, it’s nice to know that when I return to the real world – I have a plan.