Goodbye, New York: Becoming a reporter in the Bayou
NEW YORK, USA – I remember the exact moment when it happened. I was watching Jay-Z and Queen Bey rip up the stage at Stade de France on my laptop when my cellphone rang suddenly, registering a call from an unfamiliar location.
“Hi, is this Maki?” A man’s pleasant Southern drawl greeted me on the other line.
“I was reviewing your application for the staff reporter position at The Houma Courier and thought you would be a great fit. Your clips are excellent,” The mellifluous voice continued. “Are you still interested?”
I remember I was several months into a new job when the spark inside me blew out, a victim of the blustering winds blown in by the 9-7 slog and the New York City grind. In the spirit of a bonafide quarter-life crisis, I started applying left and right once I discovered that my passion didn’t lie in corporate communications.
Back to journalism
The truth was, I missed journalism: the kicks and thrills of finding a scoop, listening to people tell their own stories, engaging in real dialogue. But most of all, I missed the beauty of crafting a seamless narrative that featured a tapestry of voices weaving some greater truth to educate the public about. I missed the artistry.
I hadn’t heard from The Courier in over two months, but I recomposed myself.
“Yes, I’m still interested. What are the next steps?”
Four months later, I accepted an offer to work as a reporter covering local crime and courts for The Houma Courier. Houma, a medium-sized city located in the deep bayous of southern Louisiana, is known for its vibrant Cajun culture and proximity to the oil and seafood industries in the Gulf of Mexico.
And so I waved goodbye to corporate America, swallowed a humbling dose of unemployment and brushed the dust off my driving skills.
I visited Houma for the first time and quickly discovered that small-town living had its unique charms. Cajun cuisine, with its characteristic rich meats and hearty starches, filled me up. I could see myself writing about and becoming part of a tight-knit community that believed in preserving its local culture, enjoying life and treating each other with courtesy and respect.
It was hard to leave New York, but even harder to stay in a place that was turning me into a shell of my former self.
The city had been my home for almost 3 years, but I never grew accustomed to the rat race and living with that sword of never-being-quite-good-enough hanging over my head. Over time, the slow boil of status-seeking, financial worrying, and never-ending anomie soon cooked me, the self-professed New York lover, into apathy.
Maybe I wasn’t tough enough for New York City, but maybe leaving was an act of minor courage in itself. The conventional formula for success goes: 1) graduate from college, 2) find a decent-paying job in the big city, and 3) embark on a set path of career advancement.
But I didn’t feel like I was calling the shots. Enveloped in the warmth of a well-paying corporate job in New York, I could easily envision surrendering myself to complacency, living day-to-day in half-contentment and half-yearning, never feeling dissatisfied enough to make a change.
Houma presented an opportunity to reset my path.
I still don’t know whether journalism is ultimately the career for me, but I do know that each time I pursued a lead, spoke with sources, and crafted a story, I felt alive. I felt that my words were of service, helping hold authorities and institutions accountable to the greater public.
Several well-meaning friends have asked me about the industry’s sustainability. Word on the street is that newspapers are still struggling to find sources of revenue independent of advertising.
While this remains the case for larger national publications, exceptions such as The Houma Courier feature hyper-local coverage focusing on the day-to-day workings of the town. Thanks to the tight-knit nature of the community, local businesses are much more likely to have a longstanding relationship with the paper, ensuring steady advertising revenue. Print is not yet dead in these small towns.
I’ve observed that today’s currently fragmented industry demands a particular nimbleness in order to be successful. You have to be prepared to juggle all sorts of tricks – freelancing, shooting video, creating websites, participating in social media, and even teaching – to boost your resumé. You have to become a jack-of-all-trades if you want to survive.
But I figure, all of this is moot if you don’t have the basics down. There’s simply no substitute for good, solid reporting.
Leaving the familiar and striking out on your own, regardless of the consequences, is considered an almost holy rite of passage in America, a gateway into the American Dream. It’s also an act of supreme independence that my Filipino family would have frowned upon.
Growing up Pinay, I learned the importance of financial security and stability over pursuing one’s desires from the get-go. My grandparents would probably have a heart attack if they found out that I gave up what amounted to a six-figure salary in pesos just so I could become a journalist.
But the history of my family also taught me that I’ll never achieve anything substantial without taking charge of my own destiny. My mom is worried sick, but I think she knows I’m old enough to make my own choices and take the fall if need be.
So why am I leaping into the unknown?
As a close friend put it, “I’d rather have a challenging and interesting life.” And that’s something worth living by from now on. – Rappler.com
Maki Somosot spent more than 2 years in corporate PR before realizing how much she missed journalism. After living in the concrete jungle for most of her life, Maki will soon set up shop amidst the beautiful bayous of southern Louisiana to pursue her journalistic dream. Stay tuned for her next adventure!