First in a two-part series featuring women in media, and the personal and professional challenges they have faced. Read part 2 here.
When Colleen DeBaise was offered the Small Business Editor position at the Wall Street Journal in 2009, she felt like she landed her dream job. She was excited and optimistic about her future at the media company.
“It took so long to get to the Journal, and I thought it would be where I would stay forever,” says DeBaise.
So what happened? More on that later. First, a little background.
DeBaise was bitten by the journalism bug early on as a teenager. She worked her way up the media ranks after graduate school with stops at Dow Jones Newswires, Smart Money, and BusinessWeek before returning to Dow Jones for the Journal job.
“I can’t remember when I wasn’t in journalism,” says DeBaise. “I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and journalism is one of the few professions where you can write every day and get paid to do it!”
Despite her love for the profession, she admits it’s not what it used to be.
“In some ways it’s unrecognizable,” DeBaise says. “I started long before the Internet. Technology completely revolutionized things, for better and for worse. It’s hard to work in mainstream media these days and not feel those pressures.”
The pressure to provide non-stop content for new and various platforms with a reduced staff under the glare of management can take its toll, even for an experienced journalist like DeBaise.
“I went to work feeling like I was running a marathon every day,” DeBaise recalls. “I got really tired of trying to figure out how to write a headline that people would click on and read the story and we would get the traffic for it and that would please the advertisers.”
After two years overseeing the print and online coverage of small business for the Journal, DeBaise made the tough decision to leave her “dream” job.
“It was difficult to leave the Journal because that’s what I’d worked toward for my entire career,” she said. “I was starting to feel like I was selling my soul in traditional journalism. I was sad for the profession but I was ready to leave it.”
Her departure opened new doors and new possibilities. First at Entrepreneur.com, and now as director of digital media for The Story Exchange, a non-profit news organization that profiles female business owners through video and print stories that are picked up by the New York Times. It’s a small operation, but what excites DeBaise about it is that she is doing what she loves most – writing – without the advertising pressures that used to dictate her every move.
“I feel like this is a trend that has been happening ever since Paul Steiger left the Journal and started ProPublica. Now, we’re seeing it with Bill Keller and The Marshall Project,” she adds. “I see privately funded non-profit news organizations as being the future of pure, quality journalism.”
Maybe. Who knows what the future holds for the media industry?
For DeBaise, her choice has been a gratifying and rewarding one.
“I left mainstream media but in a very nice way, through our partnership with the Times, I still feel a part of it and that I’m doing pure journalism again,” she said.
Next week, I will share the story of another female editor, who found herself at a different crossroads in media and for very different reasons.
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Brett Savage-Simon is PR Newswire’s former director of audience relations and was a television reporter in her former life.