I was meeting a friend for lunch earlier this week. I hadn't got from the car in the parking lot to the front door of the restaurant before someone approached me and asked, "Are you Jeff Hansen?"
It was a great interaction - short, sweet, and cordial. I love meeting people like that and when we're both walking into the same restaurant, of course I'm happy to shake hands and talk to people. I think it's awesome.
I was going to lunch with a friend of mine - who is also in the journalism world - and he was already in the restaurant. Almost as a reflex, he stuck his hand out and introduced himself to the stranger I met walking in from the car. Sure enough, this stranger knew my friend as well. It was clear that my friend has gone through this 'meet someone' experience a time or two.
I've been to lunch with business partners when a "Twitter fan" or something comes up to me and says, "Are you THAT Jeff?" It's always fun. It's always impressive to the business people that I'm with, and it always sparks a conversation with them afterwards.
I've also been at lunch or had to step out of a meeting when a call from a source comes in. Without question, it's cool being the 'guy in the know' sometimes and it's always impressive to those that I'm with. I would be lying if I said that I didn't lean into it occasionally, depending on whose company I'm in. It's a cool part of the job that I get to do.
I'm not here to pretend that it's not cool or to make myself look better than I am. But, those are the aspects of the job that people see. Those are the aspects of the job that make it seem like covering BYU (or any sports team) or hopping on the radio is the dream job. If that's the only exposure to the job that you have, of course you'd be intrigued. That part of things is really cool.
But, after my brief introduction with a parking lot stranger, I sat down with my friend and spent a couple of hours with him. And as you peel back the layers of 'the cool job' and get deeper and deeper into the onion, you start to realize that it's 'a job.'
There are still politics. There are still bosses. There are still things that are outside of your control. There are still strategic differences with you and co-workers. There are still deadlines. There are still projects. There are still elements of working with a group and pulling more weight than you should to cover for the employee who doesn't get their job done right. You're still underpaid and overworked. And finally, your entire purpose with all of your work is to generate enough money that you collect your meager paycheck while someone else makes the real bucks.
Those aren't unique to journalism. Those aren't unique to any job. In fact, I would venture to say that 99% of non-business owners feel like most of the previous paragraph applies to them.
That's just part of having a job and being an employee.
But, there is an element of journalism that is unique - and it's not a particularly fun element either. My colleague and friend, Will Turner, highlighted some of those unique aspects to journalism in a Tweet yesterday where he announced that he would be leaving 'the dream job' of journalism and focusing on other things.
"It is with a heavy heart that I'm announcing that today is my final day at 247Sports.
The last six month have held some of the toughest days in my adult life. While I've dealt with mental health struggles since high school, for the first time, I questioned if life was worth living. I slipped into a dark abyss that I once believed impossible to get out of. As many know, I stepped away from Bulls247 after National Signing Day and away from USC after basketball season finished. These were not easy decisions, but decisions I felt had to be made in order to begin to pick myself out of the hole I was in. Beat writing is mentally taxing, and this constant idea that reporters (many that I called friends) have to one-up each other to get more subscriptions, followers, or ad revenue - I had to ask myself if it was really worth it. My work-life balance was non-existent, and I felt extreme anxiety every time my phone vibrated that I was going to have to stop everything I was doing to write a story. I sacrificed lifelong friendships for scoops and I treated my family as if they were non-important because I was so focused on work."
Will went on to thank positive influences and mentors throughout his rise through the journalism ranks before ultimately announcing that his next venture will be better for him.
Will is a fantastic human. He was a great journalist. He was a great resource for USC fans. He IS a great friend for me.
He's not weak. He's not broken. And frankly, the experience that he shared isn't that unique in the world of journalists and journalism.
It is a grind. You are always on the clock. You do have to sell your soul for clicks and scoops.
My eyes were opened to this a few years ago. I was going to Las Vegas to cover a high school camp with Mitch Harper and Brandon Gurney. On the way, we stopped to cover BYU's Pro Day that coincidentally was taking place as we were driving down to Vegas. This was the first official BYU event I had attended as a media person.
I met people that I had read and followed for years, but never once met or talked to. It felt familiar - like workplace banter in the break room. We all hung out in the media area and watched Pro Day take place. It was friendly, it was familiar, and it was enjoyable.
A coach, who is no longer at BYU and hasn't been for several years, walked over by me and I called to him and introduced myself. He and I chatted for about five minutes about a myriad of topics. He dapped me up after our conversation ended and I went back into the media area.
That's when I started to realize that this wasn't a break room.
I had inadvertently broken what must have been some kind of journalistic code. I had gone, in front of everyone, and talked to a coach - off the record and unsanctioned. Me, a nobody in the circles of the BYU media, went outside the construct of the BYU rules and there seemed to be a real, tangible tension as I went back to the media area.
Truth be told, I was just introducing myself to the coach. We talked about some stupid tweet I had made and he made a joke about how I wasn't actually as fat as he expected me to be. There was no media anything in the conversation, but that was the first time that I felt some of what Will alluded to.
Media is a unique situation. You cover teams on your own (if you're lucky, you get a camera man or something) and you make friends with the other people who are covering the games. But, those friends are actually your competition. Your actual co-workers don't cover the game with you, and the people you hang out with and form relationships with are actively competing with you for the same finite amount of web-traffic and ad revenue.
You are a threat to their livelihood, and they to yours.
Sure, the handshakes and camaraderie might be sincere, but when push comes to shove, everyone you are working with wants the scoop before you - and some will go to cutthroat measures to make sure they get it first.
As a result, there is a lot of backbiting. There is not a lot of authenticity. You're on an island by yourself but surrounded by everyone.
Journalism can be the most lonely and most crowded job all at the same time.
And none of this even mentions the way that people will interact with you if you happen to tweet a story that criticized their favorite team or share an opinion that their favorite player maybe isn't so good.
Death threats? That terms has become overused to the point that it's hard to take it seriously anymore.
But I need more than my fingers and toes to count the number of 'Quit your job and kill yourself' type tweets and messages I've received over the years.
The people you're working for - mean the consumers of your content, not your bosses signing a paycheck, are generally loyal to the subject you're covering, not the person you are. You feel like you're a celebrity, but if you stop covering a blue team and start covering a purple team, those who once treated you like a celebrity will hardly remember your name.
Journalism is a fun game. It's not very profitable, generally speaking, and it's an absolute grind. More and more, we're seeing people like Will who open their eyes one day and realize their dream job is much closer to a nightmare.
More and more, we're seeing people like Will make the brave step to walk away from the perceived dream job and find something else.
To some, it might not make sense - why would you leave the dream? But if you have even a shred of insight into the grind it really is, you're almost envious of people like Will - of people brave enough to get out.
We love you, Will. Take care of your mentals and get yourself back on the right track. The beat will continue to roll on without you, but your impact will last a while.
And for the rest of you who aren't Will Turner, we love you too. But maybe hug a jouranlist when the next time you get the chance. There is a good chance that they need it.