Mixing business with pleasure

When journalists date other journalists, what are the rules?

Any journalist working in the media-saturated cities of New York and DC has probably at least toyed with the idea of dating a fellow reporter, editor, or producer. Ours is an industry of long hours and open offices—conditions conducive to flirtations and flings. Of course, dating within your industry isn’t specific to journalism. The workplace remains one of the most common places for couples to meet. But given the particular ethics of this business—in which we’re all competing for sources and scoops but hold ourselves to standards of truth-telling, accuracy, and fair attribution—what are the dos and don’ts for those engaging in hot journo-on-journo action? I polled some people who have experience in this area and came up with a few guidelines.

Don’t tell other journalists about the relationship unless it’s serious. Gossipy people work in this biz.

Don’t date someone who covers similar topics or, preferably, is even in your area of journalism. “Things could get competitive,” writes one woman who’s dated other reporters on her beat. “If one of us got a particularly great assignment or scoop, there could be bruised egos.” You don’t want to feel guarded about sharing the details of your work life, and when your significant other is also a significant competitor, things will get messy fast. And even if it does work out and you’re in it for the long haul, your professional reputations will be perpetually entangled.

Don’t date an intern, even if she’s a relatively old and wise and charming intern and you’re not her direct manager. In the short term, she’ll end up doing some transcription or fetching lunch for you when you’re on deadline, and you’ll feel bad. In the long term, it’s probably best not to gain a reputation as someone who exploits the inherent power dynamics of the newsroom. Actually, doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a journalist: Don’t date an intern.

Do read each other’s work, but talk up front about how and whether you want to exchange feedback. Reacting to your partner’s creative output is always complicated, but it’s especially tricky when you’re in the same field and therefore both experts, or at the very least insiders. Whether you read and comment on your significant other’s work before publication is up to you, but I’d advise against it. This is why god created editors.

Do prepare yourself for a breakup line like, “I can’t be with you because I really have to focus on breaking these staff memos.” Or, “Oh, sorry babe, I’m too busy obsessing over what Wolf Blitzer said on CNN to be in a relationship with you.” When it comes to breakup rationale, sometimes ignorance is bliss—and when the person dumping you is a fellow journalist, you’ll always know where you stand. Maybe you don’t want to find out that you rank lower than a Blitzer hologram.

Do be prepared to know this person even after you break up. This is true of every same-profession romance, of course. But if your ex is a journalist, chances are you’ll be seeing his byline everywhere for the foreseeable future. At the very least, you’ll be bumping into each other at both professional and social events, maybe even on assignment. A former war correspondent cautions, “This is always the subject of much discussion among war journos—if you’re in Kabul or wherever, you only party with journos and State Dept. folks, and you can’t date the latter. There are always fairly epic stories about relationships gone bad and who’s dating who and all of both parties’ past relationships.”

I’ll confess that one of the best things about working in Los Angeles is that my social circle contains so few other journalists. My personal missteps are nicely isolated from my professional world. By contrast, a friend of mine who works at a magazine in New York ended her response to my query with a plea, “If you know where to meet an interesting nonjournalist, I would like to know.”

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ann Friedman is a magazine editor who loves the internet. She lives in Los Angeles Tags: #Realtalk