Becoming a Journalist, Again


When I was a kid, six or seven, I was convinced that there were cities on top of the clouds.


I told all the other kids in the neighborhood, as if I had discovered this rather than made it up.


“You guys know there’s whole downtowns up there, right?” I told them, looking up on an overcast day.


“They’re clustered in Washington, DC. If you go there, sometimes you can see them from below.”


I was the only kid in our neighborhood who had actually been to DC, and so considered an authority.


The other kids believed me, told me they could see a skyscraper or a radio tower as they craned upwards. I nodded solemnly.


I like to think that I have outgrown this, the ability to lie without realizing that I am. But I’m not sure I have.


Two weeks ago, I quit my job in human rights to become a journalist.


Or to re-become one, I guess.


Last time I was worked in journalism it was 2003


and I was a copy editor for


I came in every morning and I looked for spelling errors in stories about Paris Hilton’s nighttimes and broken links in weight loss listicles.


On the really exciting days, I got to write a headline.


I left after a year,


moved to Denmark to do a silly, useless master’s degree,


got an internship at a human rights NGO,


then a real job,


then another job, at another NGO, in another city.


Before I knew it, human rights was something my European friends were referring to as my “background.”


I took these photos in Ethiopia last year.


I was there for a conference, some UN thing.


To get in, you have to show your passport, get a little visitors badge.


Waiting in line, a former colleague asked me why I moved to Denmark.


I told her I was interested in the political system, I wanted to see how the happiest country in the world got that way.


I have been telling other people, myself, that for years. And maybe it’s true. Or maybe it’s me lying without knowing it.


Before I moved to Denmark I was living in my hometown, in my parents’ basement, hunting for typos in a cubicle all day.


Maybe I moved to Denmark because anything—cold weather, high rent, rampant socialism—would have been an improvement.


When people ask me why I got into human rights, I tell them it’s because I wanted to do something meaningful with my life,


And I tell myself that it’s to make up for the insane luck that got me born where, when, to whom I did.


But it’s also because I was living in a college town in Jutland and I wanted to move to Copenhagen for the summer. The internship paid, it would look good on my resumé.


Today I am starting my new job in journalism because it is what I want to do, all I have ever wanted to do, and the jobs I have had where I do not learn anything or write anything during my days make me feel like I am wasting them.


That is, for the first time in awhile, a “because” that feels true, that does not change depending on who I tell it to,


That, finally, does not make me feel like I am describing cities on top of clouds.


Filed under Journalism, Personal, Serious

8 responses to “Becoming a Journalist, Again

  1. Congrats Mike, so happy for you! You really earned this and it’s always felt right for you in my humble opinion. I recognize in you something I don’t have a desire for. Perhaps we’ve needed to go through all the things we did to get to where we are now

  2. So are you full time freelance? Or do you have a position? Are you staying in Berlin? Or have you gone back state-side? You have so many great articles already under your belt. I have always been impressed that you had a job and then this side job of writing.

  3. Congrats, God knows how much we need ‘real’ journos, not just people cobbling together half a page of half-cooked BS. Hope I’ll be able to read your articles soon!

  4. I hope it’s feature journalism so that your voice comes through clearly. Congrats on starting another new journey (or passing through another doorway, at any rate).

  5. Congratulations on making the jump! I really liked this post. I think a lot about how the canned reasons we give can become stifling, and as they gain weight they can feel less true, even if they weren’t explicitly false to begin with.

    I’ve been following your blog and articles ever since I first read something you wrote on the Billfold. You’ve done great work and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next. Good luck!

  6. Nice! I look forward to seeing what you do next!

  7. gabi

    Just don’t quit writing your blog, please. I learn so much and your presentation is excellent.

  8. Pingback: The most gratifying journalism experience of my life |