Why journalism?

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Since I decided to pursue journalism in high school, I have been asked this phrase countless times, hesitantly broached by loved ones during different milestones — most recently with the grueling journalism job search.

Mandile Mpofu | Graphic Artist

My dad’s a journalist. I grew up watching him take interviews in the car — his thin silver recorder living in the cup holder for easy access. As a sports reporter, he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he was 14 and pursued it.

My path is messier. A classic journalism generalist, I got into Boston University, heard a speech about the power of storytelling and knew this was the place for me. The storytelling possibilities felt endless. I wanted to do it all.

By my sophomore year, I had done as close to everything as possible — climbing to leadership positions at WTBU News and The Daily Free Press, culminating in features editor by the end of my sophomore year. When I applied to be Editor-in-Chief, I was ecstatic. The job seemed like an insane opportunity and responsibility, and one I knew I could do well.

In COM 101, they told us that most people start as journalism majors, but only a small percentage stay. I promised myself I would stay. But a month into being Editor-in-Chief, regularly working until 2 or 3 a.m. and waking weepy with exhaustion — I didn’t know if I could.

Why do we stay in this intensive industry? Why go through the torture of trying?

I experienced burnout that leaked into my mental, physical and social well-being. On the last day, I walked back from the office like a zombie, knowing I needed a break. 

The next semester, I studied abroad in London and rediscovered my curiosity and voice in my writing. I wrote every day, carrying a leather-bound notebook I lovingly called my “everything journal.” I kept receipts, tickets and memories, traveled solo to Italy, journaled in Hyde Park and ran to Buckingham Palace. 

It was the restoration I needed. A sabbatical from the intensity of the industry I faced head-on.

I couldn’t get myself out of the break mode when I returned. I couldn’t write a story. As Fall classes began to reignite my passion, I couldn’t overcome the blockade.

It was obvious what I had to do to get back into writing. It was also obvious that a big part of my heart needed to. After such an intense burnout, I couldn’t imagine doing so.

At the FreeP, there have been significant changes within the paper, so it’s not as demanding — like new co-editors and wellness rules. I learned that as young professionals in the industry, we must set boundaries with work, prioritize mental health and look out for each other.

The thing about journalism is that people don’t often talk about how emotionally demanding it is. In one semester, I regularly reported on the movement for BU to address the mental health effects of COVID-19 and sexual assault allegations. The toll of reporting these heavy subjects and editing full throttle had affected me in ways I didn’t understand. 

The work is demanding for a reason. It can’t be done correctly without empathy, purpose and care. That’s why it matters too. We can’t do it sustainably without breaks, boundaries and self-compassion.

Now it’s 2023. I am back, and I am writing. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to write a line and do nine interviews in one week. I sleep eight hours a night, eat every meal and make time for my friends. I think it was a matter of believing in myself and admitting that I wanted it.

Admitting you want or care about something that is not guaranteed — like a great story or a rewarding job — is incredibly vulnerable. It’s also how you do great, soul-fulfilling work.

Journalism isn’t something everyone understands. There was a documentary about print night made when I was an editor, and I look at that video fondly. The love in the office, the hugs among editors and the tired yet satisfied exhaustion on our faces. That’s what makes the journalism community so special. We give it our all, and we’re there for a reason. 

Looking back on my time at BU, I see stories I am proud of and friends I am proud to have worked with. I see us now, and I see us 10 years from now — everyone in some corner of the world, telling stories that matter and telling them well. 

I am still applying for jobs, but I know wherever I will be, I will be telling stories.

At BU’s Power of Narrative conference, I enjoyed hearing keynote speaker Jennifer Senior, a writer at The Atlantic who never fails to move me with her work. She said we write to make ourselves feel better about being alive. To be better at being human. I carry that message with me. It doesn’t mean the job will be easy. It means it will always be worth doing.

I feel emotional when I sit down to write or apply for a job. A different kind of emotion. The kind where I know in my core I want to be here.

As a senior, I’m filled with nostalgia, pride and hope. We can do hard things. If you, too, are answering the “why journalism” questions, know you are not alone. Sometimes, all you have to do is write.

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  1. As a freshman journalism major I love the insight this article gave into the career of journalism and the drive and passion that goes along with it.

  2. this is so inspiring and moving! even as someone who isn’t studying journalism, the moral of this article still resonates with me so much!

  3. Keep it up we always need more great writers

  4. Thank you, Lily. Well said.
    It’s a privilege and an honor to do the work of journalism — to seek the truth and tell it.