This series is guest edited by Maxine Frances Roper. If you have a story to tell on the subject, please do get in touch with The Freelancer and Maxine at email@example.com…
What’s the hardest thing about being a journalist?
Is it coming up with interesting ideas that could be developed into newsworthy pitches? Finding the motivation to crack on with difficult assignments while juggling day jobs and distractions elsewhere? Being able to cope with evenings of networking and nights alone at the laptop trying to finish a piece?
For a journalist with Asperger’s Syndrome, you would be likely to answer “all of the above”.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a hidden learning disability on the Autistic Spectrum. As a young woman with the condition, I have to work hard at improving my social communication, concentration skills and spatial awareness. People with Asperger’s are defined by their tendencies to stick to routines and certain regimes and their (in)ability to adapt to changes such as relocation or breaking into new groups.
Some of you neurotypical journalists reading this may assume that I am automatically unsuitable for working in the media. Your assumptions were probably raised by the Onion News Network’s (obviously fake) autistic reporter who is more comfortable parroting facts about trains than interacting with grieving relatives.
But I would like to think that this is a reflection on how my condition is reflected in the extremes of breaking news television and narrow media stereotypes, than on autistic journalists as a whole.
After all, we are likely to be more passionate about words, popular culture or design than we are about measurements and statistics. Far from being cold and humourless, we have to work harder to reach the levels of our neurotypical counterparts in terms of self-awareness and understanding different perspectives.
We can spot typos and design flaws (not necessarily at 50 paces!), and use our recall of general knowledge to steer the newsroom quiz team to victory.
Unfortunately, it seems that editors are unlikely to take the chance. Like Maxine Roper last month, I feel that during challenging times in journalism, editors expect journalism graduates to be self-assured and entrepreneurial, with 100wpm shorthand, social media savvy and clean driving licences.
For journos like myself who thrive under supportive and encouraging environments, it is especially disheartening when you are rejected due to worries about your confidence or lack of abilities.
Looking back, I feel that my journalism course was more harmful than beneficial to my career. Even though I enjoyed Friday afternoon drinks with my colleagues and was grateful for support from the university’s Disability Service, I found it hard to cope with commuting, workloads and frustrations at Teeline speeds.
This ultimately culminated in the afternoon where I walked out of the NCTJ Local Government paper in tears.
As a journalist on the autistic spectrum, I was too stubborn to admit that my situation was caused by poor preparation and choices. If I was an aspiring journalist now, I wouldn’t even start to apply for courses without half- or full-day work experience stints at smaller newspapers beforehand.
These not only provide good cuttings for portfolios, but provide insight into newsroom atmosphere and relationships within. The trouble is, this may prove to be too challenging for some aspiring journalists on the spectrum!
I would also recommend singling out passions that you feel comfortable talking about and finding websites and publications that will not only refresh your knowledge but provide opportunities for contributions. The Internet has helped me network with other journalists, and I recommend forums such as Journobiz that give glimpses into freelancers’ working lives and how they help each other.
Since my journalism course two years ago, I have only just regained my confidence in developing ideas and writing. Thanks to Linda Jones at Passionate Media, telephone mentoring has allowed me to not only talk through pitches and action plans, but to recognise that I should develop at my own pace and stop comparing myself with my former colleagues.
Most journalism courses aim to equip you with the basics in a short time. The trouble is, it takes a long time to figure out the most painful and valuable lessons.
No related posts.
After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look