Tuesday 8 June 2010

What will our children be when they grow up?

‘I don’t want to be an RAF helicopter pilot anymore,’ James announced over breakfast.
‘Okay love,’ I replied in what I hoped sounded like a ‘whatever’ tone (suppressing the urge to jump up and shout ‘YESS! and do a little happy dance’).
‘I think I want to be a barrister.’

What? Happy dance vanishes. The wicked godmother is a barrister and I can still remember the years upon years of (hugely expensive) training.
‘They’re the ones who stand up and argue in court, right?’
‘Indeed. Though solicitors can do that too now.’
‘But barristers are the ones who earn all the money, aren’t they?’
‘Depends what type of work you do,’ I said sagely. ‘If you end up doing a lot of legal aid or pro bono work, you don’t necessarily make that much.’
‘So what does make the money?’
‘Commercial stuff probably.’
‘Okay, that’s settled. I’ll do that.’

He’ll probably change his mind again in a few months but one thing is certain: he will never ever be a journalist. Mainly because he would rather walk over hot coals than do what his parents do but also because I seriously wonder if there will even be such a profession by the time he leaves school.

Nowadays we're all journalists. People get their news, their reviews, their op-ed pieces on blogs and in 140 character sound bites from Twitter. The election showed it all too clearly. The papers were out of date before they were even printed. Even rolling news couldn’t keep up with the Twitter stream. Newspapers are struggling – rates on many are up to 50 percent less than they were twenty years ago. Some don’t even pay at all. The Times paywall experiment will be watched eagerly – if it works, and other papers can follow suit, then maybe there will be a stay of execution for journalism for a few years at least (particularly as people take up e-readers). But I am not wildly optimistic.

Part of me thinks that’s okay. Information should be free, shouldn't it?  Plus I’ve always been of the belief that most people can write, if they put their minds to it, and I welcome the broadening of opinion that online media brings. But, in the flurry, I do think that experience and deep investigation will be swept aside. First we saw it with the cult of celebrity. Any TV presenter who’d been on a diet could write a health column. Any model or pop star could become an instant expert. Now it’s gone further and absolutely anyone can dole out advice on absolutely anything. That’s fine but can you really trust the advice of someone who woke up one morning and thought, ‘hey, I’ve had gallstones/diabetes/a headache – I think I’ll become a health writer’? What will happen when no-one will be able to pay the investigative journalists to, well, investigate? Are we going to end up with a media in which only those who can afford to write for little or nothing will write? Or is it pure democratization?

I dunno, I really don’t. Maybe it’s sour grapes. What do you think? I also wonder if other professions feel equally beleaguered?

Will your children be able to follow your profession (should they so desire)?


English Mum said...

Hmmm... as the wife of a helicopter pilot and with two kids eager to follow in his footsteps, I honestly don't think I'd ever sleep at night!

I know what you mean, though - will papers become obsolete by the time they grow up? Will they all have a contant news stream sent directly into a chip inside their head? Okay I'm getting a little carried away now, but you get my point.

I think journalism is an artform and I hope it never dies out. You guys are wordsmiths and craftsmen/women/people - it would be a sad, sad day x

Alison Cross said...

My son wants to be an inventor who also makes candles and perfume in his spare time - oh, yes - and a wild life cameraman too.

All at the same time.

Good on you son!

I think that The Times should have kept their content free, because it's difficult to give something away for free for a long time and then ask people to pay for it - even if it's got Caitlin Moran :-)

IMO they should have kept it free BUT for a premium they could have added additional content - exclusive comments, additional pix, new features, in depth interivews etc.

Ali x

Ali x

Jon Storey said...

The Children's Mother is in education, safe enough I guess, though only just escaped the latest redundancies.

I wouldn't want the children to do any of the crap jobs I have had but as one is a trainee Civil Engineer, the next a budding Vet and the youngest seems to think that interior design is the way to go, I am reasonably happy.

(Not too sure about the interior design though)

Sessha Batto said...

Well, my son thinks I'm barking mad. He's not even keen on reading an entire book, I'm sorry to say, much less write one. He's going to be (his words) something practical - a chef because (again in his words) all those obese people have to be eating somewhere ;)

Perhaps by not going into the arts the next generation can have more security than the hubs and I do.

Exmoorjane said...

EM: those were my thoughts exactly (re helicopters)... I don't think you're getting carried away at all, actually - wetware infoshare will probably be the future.

Alison: Like his style! Good points re the Times.

Jon: all sound like sane choices to me....nothing wrong with interior design!

Sessha: Yup, large part of son's decision is based on seeing how precarious the 'bohemian' arty lifestyle is - feast or famine all the time. J wants a secure (and preferably very large) income!

Fennie said...

You raise most serious questions, Jane, that many people have been asking for some time now, without getting answers. Part of the problem is us - we still read the rubbish that is daily written for us; we don't have to - and part is the absurdly high profit expectations that so many published periodicals are expected to achieve if they belong to corporations. As for on-line news I tend to the view that all journals should assemble in an internet collective and issue a single pass that could be bought monthly or annually and which would cover access to all papers and some other on-line information. But, of course, expecting News International to get into bed with Guardian News and Media would require the sort of contract that would keep your son in swimming pools for many a long year should he decide to follow that route. But perhaps you could remind him that several of the best columnists, Alan Watkins, for instance, or Matthew Parris, trained in the law.
However, he will realise soon, I am sure, that pursuing money rather than doing something that means something to you is a sale of the soul from which only disappointment and misery (and probably poor health) will result.

Posie said...

I could relate to your words today Jane with two teenagers in the house having just completed exams. One changes her career choice weekly but really hasn't a clue. There must be so many interesting jobs out there and yet in school there seems to be so little information about them apart from the run of the mill classic careers. The most important thing to me is that they find something that makes them happy. A career that challenges them and that they enjoy.
I wonder with the whole journalism/advice thing if it will become very diluted and then go full circle, everyone can write but only some have a real talent and the ability to use words to entertain, encapsulate and draw a reader in.

Zoë said...

Recall these discussions with T and R vividly - R especially changed her mind wit regularity - Vet, Musician, but she eventually returned to what she loved, and had done since she was 8 - writing - and she will join the ranks of journalists/writers, and hopefully be an informative and exciting read. She's doing a BA Hons in Journalism, so hopefully she will be properly equipped.

T on the other hand we never knew what to expect - v intelligent, and profoundly dyslexic, he didnt write his own name 'til he was in his teens. He has found his niche in the new world that exists between computer technology and art, human interfaces, and interactive design - he's away to study an MA at the Royal College of Art later this year.

You right about the punative costs of education now, I cant think how many 10s of thousands we have forked out paying rent, books, materials and so on, to get them through their under grad days, and T's post-grad study expenses make the eyes water.

At the end of the day though, I have always followed their lead, tried to help them decide what it is they want to be, and then done whatever I can to allow their dreams to become their reality. I just want them to be happy in whatever it is they eventually do. That's all that really matters in life - feeling fulfilled and content with your lot.

Jobs, like most things, evolve as technology evolves too, I became deeply uncomfortable with my job in IT designing and programming computer systems, because I realised what I did made others redundant, sometimes by the hundred! I changed careers and retrained, but health has prevented much progress with that, so I now look again to see what will help me fulfill my potential and keep me content.

That's the other thing to remember, its always possible to change your mind and do something new - nothing has to be forever.

Ramble over xx

Keef said...

Not sure I agree that 'anyone can write', Jane. And I don't know where this idea of bloggers as journalists comes from. A lot of the old professions have been/are being challenged by new technology. But just having Photoshop and some page layout software doesn't make an untrained person a graphic designer.

Milla said...

my father was a photographer and thanks his little lucky stars that got out just as the digital explosion hit - just as everyone who can type thinks they can write, so does everyone who picks up a camera judges themselves a photographer. Just leaves all the dull jobs at the end of a phone, and all the duller jobs monitoring the poor sods at the end of a phone. And traffic wardens.
F11 wants to be an exo-biologist. What's that, you ask? A creator of new worlds, apparently. God knows where he's going to put them. You should see the state of his bedroom as it is.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Big questions. I fell into what I did out of a need to provide for myself and my children and fell out of it when I had had enough of the big corporate world. Maybe J will have a go, love it for a bit and move on. There is excitement and adrenalin as well as the money, although as Fennie says, just the pursuit of money corrodes the soul. I can't imagine a child of yours settling for that.
One of mine is in publishing and one is a very new doctor. Neither was ever tempted for a single minute to do what I did, but both would love to have a go at doing what I am doing now!

Rob-bear said...

As a journalist, I wonder what is happening, and will happen, to our profession/trade. I've seen some valiant attempts to do web-based, "popular" news, and all I can say is that it represents a transition. And while blogging does give "freedom of the press to those who can't afford a press," there are real issues around quality of writing and quality of commentators. Those are the challenges of a largely-anonymous system.

And with Fennie, I don't quite see the BBC teaming up with Al Jezeera, though it would make a good match.

Our son stays at home with his two children, and is home-schooling them, while his wife has a good university position. Our daughter works in the public service. Neither is a journalist, yet both understand the value of communication. I guess that's something.

Irish Eyes said...

Love this Jane; you have hit so many nails on so many heads accurately! I remember thirty years ago, one of the foremost Irish reporters [Irish Times] telling me that the business of reporters is to report the facts and let the public make up its own mind about any given item.

Nowadays with Twitter making papers almost obsolete, as you so rightly point out, and reporters under the impression that [and this includes those would be boffins who deliver the news to us] a sneer on their face, and a raised eyebrow they are better and more intellectual than those people and "items" they interview/report on. Maybe in some cases they are, but for the Love of Mike, could they let us make up our own minds on life's universal daily happenings and not give us biased reportage?

I love to sit and read my newspapers, and try to work out what the reporter is telling me, and what I, with oft-times educated guesswork, know is not the full story. Have never taken to Twitter, life needs less frenetic stress and more time to digest unbiased, straightforward reportage and not rapid dumping of more information than the human brain can assimilate and assess in seconds! Rant over, thank you!

Esther Montgomery said...

Oh, it's so bothersome. No answers to any of these questions - in part because there's often not much to decide. Things just happen.

Don't read this as if I'm saying it in a world weary way - it's just that all the plates have been thrown in the air recently and it's not clear whether they'll stack themselves neatly as they land or smash. It's a hold-your-breath moment.


rachel said...

My son wanted to be a stunt man for most of his younger childhood years, despite a lack of interest in most physical pursuits (possibly a fantasy to annoy his mother!) then really messed up at school, which he loathed, and now lives a rather hand-to-mouth existence in London. And he seems happier than a lot of men I know, is literate, creative, opinionated and hardworking. I think a conventional education/career/marriage would have destroyed him. It was pretty hard to watch though.....

private boarding school said...

Great post, this is always an interesting topic where children are oncerned.

CAMILLA said...

Great post Jane, remember my son saying he wanted to be in printing and my first thoughts were, heck, he has not even read any books lately, even though I did read to him voraciously when he was small.

Grandson has said he want's to have a career in food, a Chef or more so even a Nutritionist, although at first he wanted to be a Mechanic, something totally different completely.!

Granddaughter said years ago she wanted to be a top Lawyer and earn big bucks like Cherie Blair..... cerikey I thought, now decided to have a career Science based.

An interesting post Jane, like Zoe's comments on changing one's career and it need not be for ever.