I loved to write when I was a girl. I didn’t just love the writing process; I loved the tools of the trade. Books, notepads, pens, and pencils always have been some of my favorite possessions. They still are today.
My obsession with office supplies developed into a love of all things written. Even before I could write “real” letters, I would draw squiggles and present them to my appropriately-impresses mother. “That does look just like an L,” she would gush. I would beam, as if the creation of anything written was a special talent.
Before long I was reading and writing. My weekends consisted of hours of lying on my bed reading or writing chapter books in spiral-bound notebooks. Writing just seemed natural to me then. It still does.
It wasn’t until high school that I discovered journalism as a professional option. What my husband described as “writing essays a day,” a function he couldn’t imagine performing, was a dream vocation to me. I couldn’t believe someone actually paid me to interview people and write about them. It was a dream job.
In truth, I’ve been an aspiring journalist my entire life. It’s fair to say I’ve always felt that journalism is my “calling.”
Perhaps this is why a study by Dr. Tracy Callaway-Russo from the University of Kansas resonated so much with me. The study included a section about anticipatory and vocational socialization. Basically, the journalists interviewed spoke about how they always wanted to be journalists, having identified the profession during their youth. The journalists reported that they began writing in grade school, spent time reading newspapers with family members or even “worked” at their family’s newspaper.
“I knew by the time I was in the seventh grade I was going to be a journalist. And I never thought about being anything else,” one journalist reported (p. 84).
Another reported: “It just infiltrated my life. From the Kennedys and Vietnam and the wars… it never occurred to me to think about anything else” (p. 84).
A columnist described her route into journalism like this: “I never thought about anything else. I even started as a kid in elementary school. My path to school took me past the emergency room entrance to the county hospital. And I would stop if I saw a big accident and ask the cops what was going on and go in to a pay phone and call the city desk… I was the only third grader who knew every organized crime figure in town” (p. 84).
I’ve claimed for years that most journalists are “wired” this way. I’ve discussed it with journalist friends, who describe their childhood hobbies in much the same way I describe mine. I watch in classrooms to see which student’s eyes light up when I talk about journalism as a calling and how I think these things may be an indicator (Yes, I’m now a journalism professor. Don’t worry, a love of pens and notebooks also meant I played “teacher” a lot as a youth.). It’s nice to have a bit of academic support for my informal theories.