Today is my last day in journalism.
It's been 12 years since I walked into the newsroom of The University Daily, a newly minted college newspaper reporter scared out of my mind about what I was doing. I was clearly out of my comfort zone. This felt like a bad idea. The first time I had to cover a breaking news story, I cursed my bad luck that I hadn't left the office five minutes earlier.
But then my name was above the fold on the front page. Every journalist knows the feeling of the first time; you feel like it's Page One of The New York Times. After that, like learning to drive a stick shift, everything clicked. It felt right. And with the exception of my mission, tutoring, Target and Europe, I've been doing it since then.
I've mostly loved my journalism career. I didn't care about the bad hours, the low pay, occasionally having to drop plans or unexpectedly go to work three hours early without having time to dry my hair. I dealt with some people I could have lived without, I read some police reports and heard some trial testimony I hope to one day forget and I wrote some stories of which I was not proud. But I loved the work. I loved telling people I was a reporter. I always knew, during those get-to-know-you questions, that I had the most exciting job in the room and somebody would want to know what I did in a day, how many sources I met in parking garages, whether I'd ever yelled "Stop the presses!" (Wait for a lot of phone calls; no, they preferred coffee shops; no.) I loved my identity as a journalist. It was who I was.
And that was pretty good, right up until my beloved newspaper, where I'd made good friends, had incredible growth opportunities, set up a tent in the newsroom and consumed so much election night pizza -- once to a soundtrack of Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Jay Z -- that the local pizza place should have had a menu item called "election night pizza," changed. I won't bore you, or depress myself all over again, with the details. But, almost overnight, I saw the soul of this paper depart, and struggled futilely for months to maintain the standards I had experienced . I found it increasingly hard to do good work. I also realized I had no loyalty left for this paper. If it could treat more senior, more talented, infinitely better journalists in such a way, I could be out that door in as long as it would take me to pack up my desk. (To be honest, some days I hoped for this.) So I left.
I didn't realize how deeply that experience affected me until I started my new job, excited to be back in a newsroom, only to discover that, like Christmas, the one bad experience had soured my entire relationship. I didn't feel the excitement. The adrenaline still came with breaking news, as long as it was convenient, but it was short-lived. I didn't feel the need to beat all the competition (except in kickball). I definitely wasn't excited about breaking news when it broke when I was about to eat lunch or dinner or go home.
Journalism, you see, is only worth the effort if you can't see yourself doing anything else. The garbage is doable because you love it. When you stop loving it, it is no longer worth it.
And that is where I find myself now, at the end of my first career. I'm making the huge* leap into the big buffet of public relations/content marketing/sort of like journalism but without the objectivity or deadlines or need for conflict. I'll be working for the Texas Tech communications office, interviewing, writing, building source lists and relationships. I'll also be going home at 5 p.m. I won't have to structure my weekend around when stories are probably coming in and how soon can we get those up. I won't have to plan out my sick days for when it's convenient for me to stay home with the hellacious cold and suck it up until then.
Don't get me wrong, I still love journalism in a way. It remains an important part of American society, and I'm glad there are still people who are doing this and there are people who love it. I hope every newspaper I've been at and every journalist I've worked with succeeds. But I don't love it in the I-want-to-see-it-every-day way. Now I love it in the I-can't-miss-you-if-you-won't-go-away way.
I'm sure I'll miss it sometimes. I'm an adrenaline junkie, and the next big news event I'm going to wish I was involved somehow. Telling people I'm in PR is nowhere near as sexy-sounding as journalism. And there's a feeling in newsrooms you just don't find anywhere else. They're places where the mundane and the inappropriate combine into the normal, and it is awesome. But my living has been my life for a long time. It's time to move on, take cake decorating classes, learn how to run a restaurant, wash dishes before they fall out of the sink, have time to really cook dinner. Maybe I'll find stability for the first time. Maybe I'll find some other way to ride the instability wagon. We'll this next one Heidi 2.0. Or maybe it's Heidi 360. Or Heidi 6s. Life improvements are coming.
But I think election night pizza is going to be a thing for a while.
* It is not huge. It's extremely similar. In fact, journalists moving into PR are probably more common than journalists staying in journalism.