Journalists Escapes Washington, Finds Life
Sam Youngman is a madman. He was a White House correspondent, but got fed up with Washington life, and moved home to Kentucky to work as a local political journalist. Here’s what he has to say about all that:
If you write about American politics for a living, stop right there. Get back to work, and don’t read another damn word.
Sign out of Twitter, say “thanks but no thanks” to a dayside cable hit, get off your ass, go outside and listen to folks beyond the same 200 know-it-alls in Washington and New York who share your affinity for snark, views on Game of Thrones and predictions for next year’s Senate race in a state only a handful of you have ever set foot in.
The 140-character slap-fight you’re in the middle of with another reporter who has never worked for minimum wage is eating up time that I’m begging you to use trying to win back credibility with a country that desperately needs us to spend more time listening and less time talking.
You might have to look it up, but find humility. A quick glance at the poll numbers for how much Americans trust their media or a two-minute conversation with a voter should do the trick. Remember why you do this for a living.
If you’ve managed to carve out a place for yourself in the shark tank that is the Washington media, you probably see yourself as pretty tough—sign No. 1 that you live and work in a town that long ago broke away from reality. It’s not your fault. Washington is an endless maze of funhouse mirrors, a fact we’re reminded of once a year when the Hill publishes its 50 Most Beautiful list, replete with people who are Washington hot, which is a step above rehab hot and two levels below jury duty hot. All are miles below what the rest of the country considers actual hot.
Growing up, I had a big mouth and a lanky 6’3” frame, a hideous and awkward combination that led to more than a few ill-advised fights. In D.C., I was rarely in a room without another dude who inspired violent tendencies but was too pitiful to punch. Remember that if you do get out of This Town. In a lot of places, folks won’t respond by trying to match your passive-aggressive cleverness with a tweet. They’ll knock you on your ass.
In short, get out of Washington. It’s messing you up more than you know.
Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. It’s great. It reminded me of when I left DC to go work at the Sun-Sentinel in south Florida, back in 1995, I went through a detox period in which I would have to watch C-SPAN to see what Speaker Gingrich was saying, because I had just left the center of the universe and oh my God what have I done!
Washington will do that to you. Look, I loved every second of my three years in Washington, but reading Youngman’s story, I can easily see how that can happen to you as a DC political journalist. I liked this especially, in which he talks about what it was like to fly to Lexington, Kentucky, for his post-DC job interview at the Lexington Herald-Leader:
The trauma of years marked by farewell parties for colleagues who had been laid off was visible on the faces of some of the staff I met, but what struck me most was the positive contrast with the Washington whirl, and especially the unfamiliar and conspicuous absence of ego. Here were people, real people, doing the best they could to put out a great newspaper with limited resources before they went home to spend time with their kids.
You will remember this bit from Walker Percy’s Lost In The Cosmos:
I predict that working artists and writers will revert to the vacated places. In fact, they’re already turning up in ordinary houses on ordinary streets long since abandoned by the Hemingways and Agees. …What else? Where would you rather be if you were James Agee now and alive and well: stumbling around Greenwich Village boozed to the gills, or sitting on the front porch of a house on a summer evening in Knoxville?
[H/T: Reader LW]