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Early to work this morning and sitting at his desk, drinking coffee is a pale-skinned, red-headed colleague of mine who is a rarity: a journalism “lifer”.

In the business for 20-some-odd years, he’s worked at newsrooms across Canada, everyone of them, almost without exceptions, dysfunctional messes, he went on to tell me.
I’m not sure how much longer I can put up with THIS place, I told him.
He gave me a pep talk – something he has done for almost every journalist in this place. He’s that kind of guy.

Wait it out, he said. The editor giving you trouble is on his way out; this time next year, he’d be surprised if he was still here.

Journalists, he said, are an odd bunch: awkward outsiders all of us, so its no wonder things get so crazy when you get a bunch of us together in a newsroom to work and write together.

The bottom line is: you’ve got to love it enough to put up with the B.S.
You’ve got to have a “fire in the belly”, a need to do the work, or you’ll end up an embittered, soulless drone – if you don’t jump ship before then, that is.

He went on to tell me about the time he was asked to speak about journalism to a group of, as it turned out, single mothers who were interested in going into the profession.

He asked what were they interested in? Writing, was the response.
Journalism isn’t a place for writers he said. Journalism is the place for, well, journalists.

Imagine this, he said: A plane crashes somewhere in the province. It’s the middle of the night; you are asleep in bed and your son or daughter is sleeping soundly in their own rooms. You get a call from your editor: What do you do?

To a woman, each mother answered she could not cover the event because she had to stay home with their children.

Then you don’t want to be a journalists, this short, thick-set man returned.
You’ve got to want it: you have to be willing to find someone to care for your kids, wake them, take them to your parents, a babysitter, take them with you: whatever. But you’ve got know you have to go, no matter what. That’s what journalism is.

Which leave me puzzling over the scenario: do planes crash so often that plane crashes are the defining moment, the situation which separates the journalists from the writers?

In all my years in journalism, I have never been called to cover a single event in the middle of the night.

How many perfectly good (and mostly maternal) voices are we willing to cut from our newspapers in the name of being ready in case a plane crashes nearby?

I mean as long as there are a few reporters who can be called in the middle of the night, what’s the harm of hiring a few child-ecumbered parents to do the daily work, the meat and potatoes, the writing, for heavens sake.

Still, this question has been burning brightly in the back of my mind: Do I have fire in my belly? If so, what cost am I willing to pay for that fire?

Do I still want to be a journalist?

I don’t know.


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