For months, I spent most of my time at work trying to articulate how much I hated working there. On paper, it was great: Japanese TV News Producer. I had a box of business cards waiting on my desk on the first day. I had 3 press badges, one of which got me free admission to a bunch of museums. I hung out at the UN. They paid me.
I started on September 1st, three months to the day after graduating college. All summer, I and my peers had sweat balls on the subway and watched our bank accounts bleed. We each, in turn, had bed bug panics. We all heard horror stories from the ‘09ers, those who really had to eat shit in the shadow of the financial crisis, who graduated into a hiring freeze so across-the-board, so widespread, that a resume could easily skate from South Street up to Central Park without ever seeing an interview.
We had it better, or so they told us, but we had the bad luck of not really believing that it was just bad luck anymore. We had become recession babies without even knowing it, not quite hoarding rubber bands in our sock drawers, but still stuck with a storm cloud above us at all times. Unlike the grads a few years back, we never thought we would have it easy. Everyone had stopped serving up the suburban playdate pablulum that “we were special, we could do anything” before we had even tried to do anything at all. So when the threat of fall rolled around, our collective sights were set low, on the barest city subsistence we knew: Kaplan and coffee-slinging, part-time low-paid interning.
Among my stubbornly media-bound friends, in this grim citywide limbo, I was the first to get a job offer. It came as a surprise, the product of a little form filled out on MediaBistro and an interview in rusty Japanese. It would have been hubris to take a pass. I was like an atheist being asked to disavow my church or die: I had no faith that there were greener gigs to be got, so jumped on the first thing that came along.
And the fact that the job came in the same cycle as school semesters felt like a good omen. September is when things get underway! Leaves! Fall! It would be like a language class and a film studies class rolled into one, just having fun making TV news happen in Japanese!
By Thanksgiving, things had soured. My grandmother emailed me with an anecdote about my cousins running 5Ks before eating turkey, then asked what had I done before eating turkey, and what was new/interesting about my job?
As it turned out, I didn’t really make TV at my job, not much happened in TV news in general, and doing it in Japanese just made it lonelier. Key phrases in my reply: “most aggressively stupid,” “penned-in press areas with a camera for hours on end,” “doubt it’ll be any better,” “non-information.”
And from her re-reply:
“Aww shucks, I was hoping you had a more interesting job to make up for the low pay.”
The actual work, when there was work to be done, was fine—running around with tripods, translating questions, helping with computers—but the absence of work was unbearable. And one quirk of TV journalism is, as it turns out, how quickly “work” can become its inverse, how quickly your professional life can turn into an endless exercise in waiting in rooms.
The nature of the overseas bureau is that only the biggest stories make the cut. The nature of the biggest stories is that they never want to talk to you. Hallways, doorways, streets, stages, all must be staked out, for hours on end, especially in the UN, and more especially when waiting for less friendly regimes to do anything at all (lookin’ at you, North Korea). These stakeouts can take days.
TV needs a moving image in order to convey any information at all. If you want to say that someone didn’t say anything, you still need a shot of that person. If you want to report on an intense closed-door meeting, you still need a shot of the doors. So in the logic of TV, it makes sense to stand across the street from a hotel for four hours in the middle of December to get a shot of a man walking the ten feet from the lobby to a waiting limo’s door. But in human logic, even as a human reduced to a tiny cog moving non-information from non-source to likely-disinterested-viewer of non-news, this is insane. Or at the very least, very, very dumb.
After a few months, my peers got jobs, and more interesting ones than mine. They were busy doing things, and things that people in the city saw, and things that they wanted to do in the future. I was doing nothing for people 7000 miles away. One of the better analogies I came up with compares myself to public school teacher, stuck in a rubber room, denied even the pleasure of having yelled at a kid.
So most days, the majority of days, when there was nothing newsworthy to make me go wait for, I got into work at 9:30, did some small tasks for an hour, and began my long push down to madness. Waiting in a hallway for a stupid shot at least gave me rage, a rattling anger at the dumb cage of TV. Waiting in an office, by contrast, without even a relationship to a meaningless goal beyond continuing to breathe, only led to despair.