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Justin McLeod's Blog

July 20, 2012

August 15

Goodbye

They say all good things must come to an end.  With that, I'm leaving WDBJ and the news business.  I've accepted a position as the community relations coordinator for Roanoke City Schools.  There are several reasons why I'm switching careers.  I'd like to share some with you.

At 36, I need to try something new.  I haven't really been challenged for awhile.  I guess you could say I'm going through a mini mid-life crisis.  I'm told that is normal for people in their mid-30's.  From sometime, I've been asking myself do I want to do this for the rest of my life?  I've looked in my imaginary crystal ball and discovered the answer is no.  My friends and colleagues are surprised by this.  One of my old bosses e-mailed me and said "say it ain't so."  Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be my journalist.  Some of my friends have told me you will always be one.  They think I will be bored doing public relations.  They may be right.  I just don't know. 

Sure, I'm not going to miss working holidays or reporting live outside in a snowstorm.  But one of the main reasons I'm leaving TV news is because I can't stomach it as much.  A few years ago, we had this talented photographer leave the business.  I asked her why.  She was so good at what she did.  She told me "I'm tired of being there on the worst day of people's lives."  What she said really struck me.  My moment came after the shootings at Virginia Tech.  I had never seen so much misery in my life.  Frankly, I don't want to ever see that again.  Last winter when a police officer was shot and killed on the Virginia Tech campus, I was covering a story in Staunton.  When I heard the news, all the memories from April 16th, 2007 came rushing back.  Honestly, I was relieved I wasn't close enough to cover another tragic event on campus. 

Of course, there are other reasons.  People just seem to have so much hatred and distrust of journalists these days.  It is partly our fault.  We don't do a good enough job of explaining why we do the things we do.  But in the last few years, the hatred has reached another level.  I blame the popularity of web comments and social media sites like facebook.  Some of the comments just blow me away.  Granted, I'm not always a nice person.  I've said plenty of things that are hurtful but what many are writing these days is just unbelievable. 

TV news has changed a lot since I started 15 years ago.  That is to be expected.  Every industry changes over time.  But there are some changes I just don't agree with.  I hate that the news media has become so partisan.  If you are a conservative, you watch FOX News.  If you are a liberal, you watch MSNBC.  Unfortunately, the public is now more suspicious of all journalists.  People overanalyze every word we write.  We get criticized from the left, we get criticized from the right.  There are days I just want to tell people to calm down.  There is no conspiracy.  I have said this before and I will say it again, I've never had anyone tell me to slant a story a certain way.

A lot of Americans believe journalists are a bunch of liberals.  I haven't really weighed in on that topic before because I don't think it is an argument I could win.  I wish my colleagues, especially in the national news media, would take a step back and ask themselves "do they have a point?  Are journalists too liberal?  Are they unfair to conservatives?  Stop debating and denying.  Since the news business has changed so much, can't we all just admit our biases and move on?  All journalists are biased in some ways.  I think some are better controlling it than others.  I took my responsibility to be fair and balanced very seriously.  I wasn't perfect.  I wish more journalists would be less defensive and more open to asking why do people have a negative perception of us.

But let me be clear, I don't regret my years in TV news.  I met some great people, covered many great stories, and got to go places many don't ever get to see.  There will be times I will miss TV news.  I am not leaving the area.  I'm looking forward to my new role with Roanoke City Schools.  It will be different and it will be scary but I think this is a good move for me.  Thanks for putting up with me over the years.  I've screwed up plenty, put on and lost weight countless times, and have tried to do everything I could to control that awful cowlick I have in the front of my hair.  Take care and God Bless.

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