Work/life trend pieces and when journalistic heroes fall, literally

Ann Friedman answers all your (journalism) questions

What’s the deal with articles about CEOs/leaders/politicians only mentioning “work/life balance” if the subject is a woman? Where are the hand-wringing articles about whether or not Romney is spending enough time with his 15 grandchildren? Or about how Lebron James feels about missing out on important events for his two young children in order to play sports? —Someone who wants “it all

I bet you’re talking about the coverage of new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s imminent motherhood. And also probably Anne-Marie Slaughter’s inability to “have it all.” And the one million other feature stories that have rehashed about whether financially successful, college-educated women should have babies. Or should have nannies to care for their babies. Or should give up and marry a mediocre man to care for their babies. Or should just carry their babies to work in a briefcase. (The Atlantic has this market cornered.)

There is wide-ranging conversation to be had about balancing the personal and the professional. But pieces about men are rarely marketed that way. This month’s Wired cover story, about how entrepreneurs reacted to the Steve Jobs biography, featured many quotes like this one: “But I realized that, like Jobs, I could die. Jobs missed out on his kids, and I’d have missed out on mine too.” But the art was not a startup dude in a turtleneck and ill-fitting jeans with a Baby Bjorn strapped to his chest. The word “dad” appeared nowhere in the display copy.

It’s not just magazine editors who are failing here. Beat reporters should take a hard look at how they cover their subjects’ personal lives. Are they asking men about work/life balance as much as they’re asking women? If we are interested in how Mayer is going to run a major tech company with a baby at home, we should also be interested in how Sergey Brin makes time for his toddler.

Let’s say you’re a writer and you really loved Jonah Lehrer’s work. And then all this shit happens. And suddenly, this person you’ve been loving and finding inspiration in for years has committed career suicide.

And meanwhile, you’ve been a giant fan of Bethlehem Shoals for a long time, too, and he’s just taken a job at ad agency Wieden+Kennedy—which, like, more power to him, no judgments … it’s probably a good move for him and his family and all that, but it still feels like it sucks somehow.

And so I get that these things are totally different—one is a writer basically crumbling and self-destructing whereas the other is just someone choosing a different, possibly better, line of work—and yet maybe because they happened around the same, it feels like they signal something about journalism?

I guess my question is: when I see people who are damn good writers and also pretty damn successful either self-destruct or say “peace out,” where do I look for resolve? How do I acknowledge all of this and make myself a better writer in the face of it?
Patrick James, managing editor of VeryShortList

You are correct that these are two wildly different scenarios. But in both cases? Move on! Find some new idols.

Now I’m going to say something crass: With these two journalists out of the game (at least temporarily), there’s more work for us. More assignments, more opportunities. This business is hard, and it’s tough to find stable, full-time, fulfilling work. And because you love it and you’ve worked so hard to get where you are, you’re not going to fuck it all up by taking an easy way out.

Learn from Lehrer: Be realistic with assigning editors and bosses about what you can accomplish in a given amount of time so that you don’t feel pressured to slip in an unchecked fact or quote as you’re rushing to meet an unrealistic deadline. Don’t pitch ideas that are way-out-there and hard to back up with actual reporting. And learn from Shoals: Sometimes this industry is too demanding, and you’ll need to bow out into PR for awhile. One of the great things about this era of journalism is that nobody stays with one publication or in one role for too long. Things are always changing, and if your current job isn’t meeting your needs, you can probably find one that’s a better fit. Still, be prepared to maintain your Internet presence. And deal with some instability in the short term.

Can you please describe how an editor feels when yet ANOTHER writer misuses the word “literally”? —an editor literally named Julie

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