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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Help! My Friend is Trashing My Career Goals

Dear Fran,

I’m a college student studying journalism with the goal of writing or editing at a magazine after graduation. I’ve finally managed to convince my parents that a career in journalism doesn’t necessarily translate into a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, but now I have another problem regarding my occupation of choice: One of my friends (who is also my roommate) constantly criticizes journalists and journalism in my presence.

Her criticism takes the form of diatribes to mutual acquaintances or to me, sarcastic status updates on Facebook, and indirect bashing in blog posts. Every time she does this, I try to bite my lip and chalk her comments up to possible bitterness about switching her major (she used to be a journalism major, too, but she switched to psychology), but I can’t help but wonder why she would make degrading jabs right in front of me. One time, we even got into an argument on Facebook over a link she posted on my wall about robots writing journalism stories with a sarcastic message: “This is why I’m no longer a journalist.” The incident occurred more than a year ago, and she apologized and deleted the post.

However, my friend still continues to riff on my career choice every chance she gets. Her most recent outburst occurred in a blog post in which she portrayed journalists as arrogant and inconsiderate people who require recognition and awards. Although some individuals in the profession might confirm her description, I, for one, am not a journalist to garner Pulitzers. I’m frustrated and weary of making excuses for her rude comments. I’m beginning to question if I should still consider her my friend.

How can I respond to and deal with her unsolicited criticism with grace when all I want to do is fire back at her?

Aspiring Journalist

Dear Aspiring,

Your letter brings up many issues—some obvious, some not so obvious.

First, I detect a bit of defensiveness, and I would caution you not to let anything this girl says undermine your determination to be a journalist. What if Diane Sawyer’s college roommate had belittled her efforts to pursue journalism? Not only would dear Diane have had a horrible friend on her hands, but she might have denied the world a wonderful news anchor by switching majors!

I assume you’re attending an accredited journalism school, with a program focused not only on craft but on a broad range of important issues in the field. Here’s the mission of the Columbia School of Journalism: “The school prepares (students) to perform a vital and challenging function in free societies: finding out the truth of complicated situations, usually under a time constraint, and communicating it in a clear, engaging fashion to the public.” If your school is teaching to that outcome, and you intend to practice it that way, you have every reason to be proud—and hopeful.

That said, journalists are often criticized by our society, and they surely will continue to be. But if you truly want to be a journalist, why are you so defensive about a profession that seeks truth, even in a period of great uncertainty? What in the current world of journalism isn’t in question these days—from the struggle of media companies to find profitable business models, to the blurring of lines between opinion and fact (and between public relations that promotes a point of view and journalism that seeks truth), to the lack of respect so many people have for the field?

Instead of denying that, try to think about ways these problems can be addressed and how you can be a positive voice. In the specific case of your friend’s “robots” Facebook post, could you have countered the article’s content and pointed out that robots can never go out and interview sources, or that a computer can never reproduce the individuality and creativity of human beings? You called it an argument, but instead, think of it as engaging in a healthy exchange of ideas to show her that you’re willing to stand up for your interests and future career. She has expressed her belief; perhaps you could explain to her (and other readers) why you feel the way you feel.

Now, let’s move on to the more personal issues your letter raises. Honestly, I’m willing to bet that she had a personal, rather than a professional, reason to switch out of journalism school—such as a mean or unsupportive professor—and that a lot of this represents a psychological projection of that. I don’t know whether she’ll admit that to you, or even realize it, but as her friend, you can certainly initiate an open, face-to-face discussion and express how you feel. Ask her why she changed her major. Ask her if she’s trying to persuade you to drop journalism, too. Since she posted something about journalists being arrogant and inconsiderate, ask her if she thinks you’re arrogant and inconsiderate. Make her aware that these constant negative posts and comments are very hurtful, and that your belief in your profession is strong enough to withstand her constant criticism.

No, you can’t insist that she stop posting her opinions on her personal blog or in her status updates (unless these mention you by name), or prevent her from offering her opinions to mutual friends (unless she mentions you by name). But you can ask her to stop posting on your wall or making snide comments to you. If she’s unwilling, or can’t understand why you might be taking offense, I would encourage you to really evaluate this friendship. A friend is someone who will support you, encourage you, and want the very best for you, not someone who discourages you from your passions.

Finally, you say your friend is now studying psychology. I’m a psychotherapist. Do you know how many people find fault with my profession and say so, even when talking to me, a practitioner? If I took all that criticism to heart, I’d be in trouble. All I can do is ask what experience they’ve had that led them to the conclusion that the profession is worthless or threatening, acknowledge their experience, say that I don’t practice it that way (or defend myself in another way), and go about my business. You can do that, too.

And a final thought—this is a subject that might make for a fascinating article. I’ve noticed that these days some people share publicly their every thought, belief, or activity—even sometimes when it is potentially hurtful. As a journalist, you might find it interesting to look into whether social media is increasing human impulsivity and decreasing empathy, as some studies have shown, and what implications that has for society.

Best to you,


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Photo courtesy of Robert Thivierge.