Monthly Archives: May 2016

Becoming a Journalist, Again

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When I was a kid, six or seven, I was convinced that there were cities on top of the clouds.

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I told all the other kids in the neighborhood, as if I had discovered this rather than made it up.

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“You guys know there’s whole downtowns up there, right?” I told them, looking up on an overcast day.

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“They’re clustered in Washington, DC. If you go there, sometimes you can see them from below.”

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I was the only kid in our neighborhood who had actually been to DC, and so considered an authority.

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The other kids believed me, told me they could see a skyscraper or a radio tower as they craned upwards. I nodded solemnly.

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I like to think that I have outgrown this, the ability to lie without realizing that I am. But I’m not sure I have.

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Two weeks ago, I quit my job in human rights to become a journalist.

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Or to re-become one, I guess.

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Last time I was worked in journalism it was 2003

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and I was a copy editor for msn.com.

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I came in every morning and I looked for spelling errors in stories about Paris Hilton’s nighttimes and broken links in weight loss listicles.

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On the really exciting days, I got to write a headline.

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I left after a year,

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moved to Denmark to do a silly, useless master’s degree,

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got an internship at a human rights NGO,

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then a real job,

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then another job, at another NGO, in another city.

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Before I knew it, human rights was something my European friends were referring to as my “background.”

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I took these photos in Ethiopia last year.

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I was there for a conference, some UN thing.

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To get in, you have to show your passport, get a little visitors badge.

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Waiting in line, a former colleague asked me why I moved to Denmark.

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I told her I was interested in the political system, I wanted to see how the happiest country in the world got that way.

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I have been telling other people, myself, that for years. And maybe it’s true. Or maybe it’s me lying without knowing it.

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Before I moved to Denmark I was living in my hometown, in my parents’ basement, hunting for typos in a cubicle all day.

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Maybe I moved to Denmark because anything—cold weather, high rent, rampant socialism—would have been an improvement.

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When people ask me why I got into human rights, I tell them it’s because I wanted to do something meaningful with my life,

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And I tell myself that it’s to make up for the insane luck that got me born where, when, to whom I did.

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But it’s also because I was living in a college town in Jutland and I wanted to move to Copenhagen for the summer. The internship paid, it would look good on my resumé.

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Today I am starting my new job in journalism because it is what I want to do, all I have ever wanted to do, and the jobs I have had where I do not learn anything or write anything during my days make me feel like I am wasting them.

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That is, for the first time in awhile, a “because” that feels true, that does not change depending on who I tell it to,

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That, finally, does not make me feel like I am describing cities on top of clouds.

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Filed under Journalism, Personal, Serious