I‘ve been working remotely for 16 years happily editing this news page — my boss might call it remotely working. So as 1 billion people around the world are working from home, or not working at all, let me offer a few words about how to be happy working alone.
First: Never take advice from an unhappy person.
Second: Working online can be a great job for a middle-aged or old dude or dudette, but I don’t suggest it for a young one, if you can avoid it. Here’s why:
Five or six years before Bill Girdner invented Courthouse News Service in 1990, we bumped into each other in Los Angeles, hustling for stories as freelance reporters. We’d known each other in college. We yokked it up at some bar.
Twenty years later, out of nowhere, Bill asked me to help set up this news page. I was in Vermont and he was in California — hadn’t seen each other in years.
Though the trade has been good to me, I would not recommend online journalism for a youngster.
Because you don’t meet anyone, except online. And that’s not really meeting someone. So you don’t develop social skills, or real contacts.
You don’t learn how to sum someone up and estimate her reliability as a source, from looking at his eyes and body language — because you never see anyone.
Fortunately, I got this job when I was 52 years old. By then I’d been out there and done stuff. But I would not advise a hungry, college-graduate news junkie to take a job editing an online news site at home — though god knows they need editing — because you’ll never meet people that way. Your social skills — your skills as a human — will be stunted perforce. And we don’t need reporters like that.
If you can get a real reporting job for an online news site — getting out on the streets and meeting people, doing shoe-leather reporting — sure, take it. But if it’s all online, by email and telephone, no.
You’ve got to have human contact if you want to write for humans. And you will not get it sitting at home in front of a screen. Even if you’ve got a cat.
Worse, you may come to prefer sitting in front of a screen with your cat to going out on the streets. And that’s the worst thing that could happen to a young reporter.
So, let’s review today’s lesson:
Never take advice from an unhappy person.
Get out on the streets and talk to people — about anything.
Even if you’re not reporting, talk to strangers. Chat them up. Take interest in what they say.
Don’t just sit home alone.
What are they going to do to you if you get out on the streets and talk to people: Arrest you? Like in China?
Actually, yes, we do that: For instance, for filming police abuse. They’ll beat the shit out of you too.
I am not offering this advice lightly — unlike so many of my columns when I suggest, for example, taxing helping verbs.
I realize I’m offering it at a moment in world history when online reporting is the safest way to do it, a form of so-called reporting that will come to dominate the trade for the next 30 years or more, until someone comes up with something even worse.
I’m saying it because we need hungry young news junkies who know how to report and write. And keep an eye on themselves while they’re doing it. And as all of the Christian and Pagan divines have told us, World Without End, you have to keep an eye on yourself before you turn your eyes onto other people.
Also, I suggest you lay in a good store of Smokey Robinson.
(Courthouse News editor Robert Kahn acknowledges that the advice in this column is already way past its expiration date. But he finished it just this week, after starting it in February just before Covid-19 made news. We publish it to show how fast things can change. And if that makes Courthouse News editor Robert Kahn look stupid, well …)