By Jessica Rettig, JAWS Board Member
Before going to the Conference and Mentoring Project (CAMP) last year, I had made a decision. It was a decision that I had mulled over for years and one that I feared would make me a pariah among all my beloved Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) mentors and friends, who had encouraged me, pushed me along and helped me find great jobs throughout my still budding career.
I decided that I wanted to leave journalism.
I was so anxious as I flew to Vermont. What would I tell people when they asked what I wanted to do after graduate school? What would they say when I told them I didn’t want to be a reporter anymore and wanted to explore other careers to see if I could find a better fit? From my fellowship in 2010 to a spot on the board to a wonderful summer internship, JAWS members had given me so much opportunity over the years; I felt like I was betraying the group’s mission by wanting to try something else. I didn’t think I would belong anymore.
But from my first night in Essex, I was delightfully surprised. I started with my fellow board members, whom I trust and respect immensely. I told them how I loved my M.A. program in global finance and trade and admitted that I probably would be looking for jobs with international organizations in communications or branding or PR when I graduated this June. I received nothing but support and uplifting stories about how others they knew had done similar, worthwhile things in their careers. That support and those stories only continued throughout the weekend.
The more I opened up and was honest about why I didn’t love working in journalism like I once hoped I would—my frustrations about the churn of daily reporting, the job insecurity, my growing disillusion with politics and the lack of tangible outcomes that I had once dreamed about—the more understanding JAWS women were. They had been there. They had thought the same things throughout their careers. Many had left or were forced to pursue other opportunities and had come back to journalism. Many had been able to use the skills and principles they developed through journalism to accomplish great, fulfilling work elsewhere. Not to mention, all of the panels and speakers inspired me to consider sticking with media, and at the very least, let me know that with all the shapes and forms that exist in the industry today, I could always keep doing journalism in some way, if I worked hard enough and had smart ideas.
As usual, the women of JAWS were full of wonderful advice and support. As I had in previous years when I had asked tough questions about working in journalism, I felt understood. I was far from the only one who had been in my shoes before. I don’t know why I had expected anything less.
This is why JAWS is so special to me. Yes, our mission is about promoting the advancement of women in JOURNALISM. Even as I consider other careers for myself, I believe in that mission wholly and am happy to spend hours a week working on the board for that reason today. But, really, it’s more than that, as I discovered last October. People don’t join JAWS to put on a guise and go into formal interview mode. People join JAWS because they know they can be true to themselves and still feel welcome and understood and even encouraged to follow their own path. We can talk about real issues we’re facing as the industry changes and get real advice and inspiration from people who have shared our experiences. It’s tough to get that level of frankness in other professional organizations.
I still don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing come graduation this June. After again witnessing JAWS members’ passion at CAMP, I might even end up with another job in journalism. What I do know, however, is that no matter which path I take, I’ll be truly lucky if I can find the level of wisdom and support that I’ve found at JAWS.