I’m applying for a journalism course for two reasons – selfish and altruistic.
First of all, the well-meaning: Since discovering an Amnesty International leaflet in our family’s kitchen bin aged 15 I have felt angry about global injustice. Now, 15 years on, I’ve travelled to many parts of the world, I speak three languages, I give to six different global charities each month and I have dedicated my entire working life to supporting others. I have done this mostly through educational projects despite my skills being far better suited for journalism because I always thought that the latter was exclusively for people who were more worried about their tall golden letters being writ high upon the walls of their ivory towers than, well, people who cared about helping the world.
Then a friend lent me the book by Jane Bussman in which she uncovers some murky parts of Uganda’s civil war and accidentally a) becomes a journalist and b) does some good in the world. It’s also a pretty funny book (Jane Bussman is a comedy writer: the book is called The Worst Date Ever.) Despite my best efforts, it had moved a small dusty boulder at the back of my mind and light was suddenly reaching that part I’d been hiding from myself for years called ‘Passion’. I tried to ignore it.
Then I was suddenly made redundant. I was so shocked that I read a career guidance book from my mum’s shelf (What Colour Is Your Parachute?) I discovered that I might enjoy researching, interviewing and writing. I tried to ignore it.
In some confused state I put ‘writing’ into Guardian jobs during a flight of fancy and a short journalism course popped up. I quickly closed the window and opened up Ted.com instead to pass the time.
Paul Lewis began explaining to me from the screen how he probably helped to prevent police violence because of his work establishing the facts behind Ian Tomlinson’s death. Heather Brooke was outlining how MPs have stopped wasting money on DVDs and new kitchens because of her work on exposing their expenses and how people around the world are now emailing Freedom of Information requests. Journalism’s ivory towers, and all my excuses, were crumbling into a million shiny shards of crowdsourced news stories, twitter exposés and wikileaks. Had journalism changed or had I? One thing was sure: journalism could do good and I had no more excuses left.
And now the selfish reason for applying. My little flat is full of notebooks. I’m fed up of them. The diaries, the poems, the stories, the ideas, the little observations, they’ve all woven together around the room like a lovely thick nest of my worlds and words, but like some oblivious reality-TV hoarder I’ve somehow let my own comfort blanket of scribblings trap me. My bookshelf covers one whole wall and the words have filled it. So, instead of setting them down in yet another notebook, next time a turn of phrase or metaphor comes my way I shall be putting them out in the jumble sale of the literary world – journalism.
I do not expect a career in journalism to fall into my lap easily following this course but I feel that I will work with dedication to protect the idea of writing as work because I will enjoy it – the linguist, traveller and people-observer in me will finally be able to channel all the words that bubble up productively. I’m not 15 anymore, angrily shouting about some charity leaflet soggy with bin juice. One divorce and redundancy later, I’m less raging youth and more analytical cynic, but I’ve got nothing left to lose and no excuses left to hide behind. I’m applying to do this course because I am stepping out and pursuing what is and what has always been my true passion: writing. I look forward to exploring new places, ideas, researching and probing online and in person, and I intend to put all of my energies into getting some bold gold letters high up on a wall somewhere. Just not mine.