Nobody ever asks me that question. No one ever asks reporters any questions because they’re way too concerned about getting their story out. So since no one ever asked, I’m happy to write it down for you.
To long to read: It’s a beautiful struggle (just like the rest of my life).
One of my editors recently told me it looks like things are going great in San Francisco according to my status updates. I feel kind of bad that I left that impression. Not everything’s all that shiny. Actually most of it isn’t. But a lot of people pretend it is. When I mentioned the other day that sometimes I feel a void now that I’ve reached my life goal of moving to San Francisco and don’t know what’s next to come, quite some people reached out to me to tell me they were feeling the same way. The reason why I write this personal post is just that – remind people that they are not alone.
Unlike every other person I know who moved here recently, I didn’t relocate to be in Silicon Valley, be part of the startup scene, call myself an entrepreneur. I’ve had this dream of moving here ever since I was 21 when I first lived here for a couple of months. Whenever I touch down in San Francisco, my soul feels like it finally has arrived where it’s supposed to be. It’s hard to explain, but other SF lovers wrote beautiful songs about it. So doing tech reporting is really just a means to make all of this happen for me.
Also, I am a news junkie and when I visited back in November, I realized the future is happening here. As a journalist, that’s probably the best thing that can happen to you. I want to tell the world what’s happening here.Though I didn’t move here to party with 20 year-old developers (with all due respect, I’m just too old for that). And I didn’t move here to report on your new app that’s putting fancy filters on your photos. I came here to cover a revolution, get the bigger picture. Quite frankly, 70 per cent of what’s happening here feels overhyped to me and makes me yawn. But catching the 30 per cent of brillance is what makes being here so awesome.
In the first weeks I felt somewhat pushed into a role. When you get here, you need to hit the tech scene, you need to meet this guy and that founder. When really all I wanted to do is sip tea and reconnect with old friends, meet amazing people and write interesting stories about them. Luckily, I realized that I don’t need to play any role and since I am a natural born loner, I’d much rather be lonely than being someone else. So yes, the first couple of weeks I was lonely – and still am.
As a reporter, a lot of people first and foremost see a way to get their story out when they meet you. After all, they are the very disruptive entrepreneur fixing whatever it is that is “broken” and you’re the journalist who’s supposed to be happy to pick up that story. Also, some of the expats from my home country seem to act like little boys in the candy store. I met 40-somethings who were all overjoyed because everything is “so super awesome and super easy here”. Well, for the rest of San Francisco who doesn’t work in tech and doesn’t make 100+k, it’s not that easy here. In fact, the locals I know here don’t live in any of the hip districts. Because outside the tech boom, making ends meet can be a struggle. The thing is, as awesome as all the smart brains here are, most of the entrepreneurs and tech workers are living in a bubble. If you’ve ever picked up the local news, you’d probably read a piece or two about what the tech boom is doing to the city. People, you are not superstars. The least you can do is give back to the community.
A lot of people who relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area were sponsored by their employers, or had some investments that made moving here easier. As a self-employed journalist, I don’t get any of that. I’m not complaining here because this was my choice and it’s the one I’m most proud of in my life. Also, you do get a lot of free stuff as a journalist. On the other hand, I did pay for conference tickets that I was going to report on and then the editor never ran the story. Being a Silicon Valley correspondent is the most risky investment I ever made. And while most people I interview are telling me how they’ve just raised some 100k for an app that does whatever, I fight over 10 Euros with clients. I probably make a third of what a developer in the bay area makes (I don’t even know, I don’t even want to think about it until I have to do my taxes).
So yes, it was all my choice. But it’s just frustrating having people tell you how things are super smooth and how raising money is so easy when you’re constantly struggling. There are so many articles out there about how entrepeneur’s life is so tough. I deserve to say how a reporter’s life is so tough. Did I mention I am lonely?
Most of my time I’m not actually working but figuring out what I’m gonna work on next. Work is the best part of my life here – it is after all the reason that got me here. But just like everyone else who’s just starting a new business, I’m not nearly where I want to be yet. I’ve stopped beating myself up for that and accepted the fact that things don’t happen over night. What’s really frustrating is that there are so many stories to tell, but I need to convince the news outlets to run them. Just like entrepreneurs, I constantly need to pitch my ideas – but I need to find new ideas every other day and when someone loves it, I get a few bucks for it, not some couple of 100k.
As a freelancer you are very much dependent on your clients and on the publications you write for. I’ve been trying to work on my own projects to become more independent, though some stuff is on hold because I need to get jobs done that actually make money first.
But I love it. I am so proud of having this job.
The New People
So after I felt pushed into roles I didn’t want to play and met so many super easy and smooth entrepreneurs that I got sick of it, I decided to become pro-active. I’ve reached out to people who I assumed I could identify with – female journalists. This was one of the best things I’ve done recently. I’ve met wonderful people with similar backgrounds who were not trying to make their work sound easy. But rather they confirmed that indeed, it is a struggle to be a reporter. Even one of the most outgoing, extroverted women I know (who’s also been on TV) told me that the first six months here were the toughest for her.
You have to realize, as a reporter you are always the outsider. Yes, you can be a part of the “scene” but still you have a different role than everyone else – and I won’t get too meta here. What’s even worse when you’re a correspondent, you don’t have co-workers to connect with. After I meet people for interviews, I usually go home or to some coffee place to write that story down. There’s no one I can talk to about how interesting that conversation was or how hard it is to get a scoop. You do have your editors overseas, but they’re in another time zone. While you are sleeping, they are editing your story and publishing it.
I wake up to 20 to 40 emails a day. That’s not too bad and most of it isn’t urgent. But as a west coast reporter I’m constantly in fear that something is wrong with my story and I wasn’t able to react earlier because I was asleep. Dealing with this internal stress is a challenge, it took me two months to adopt to it.
The Private Life
Let’s just say I don’t have one. Most of what I do here evolves around work. Though I do have a couple of non-techy friends I appreciate muchly. Making friends is hard, even more so when you’re older and you’re not single and trying to meet your next lover. And yes, long-distance relationships suck. I probably reached my lowest point when I went to Walgreens to get SAMe.
How To Deal
When I feel depressed, I get out for a walk in the beautiful neighborhood that is Nob Hill. Sucking in the air and beautiful views, I remember why I moved here in the first place. Sometimes I let myself distract from what’s really my mission. Then I just catch a glimpse of the bay and calm down.
To keep myself from being lonely and getting disconnected, I started doing work dates and blogging sessions with friends. Just this week I decided to join a shared office space with another Silicon Valley correspondent from Sweden because she’s been experiencing the same work struggles.
Relocating to a new city is hard. It was a lot easier when I was 21 compared to now, eight years later. Being a freelance journalist has never been an easy ride. I combined both of these situations just to live in the best city on earth. It’s awesome, it’s frustrating, it’s stressful, it’s exciting. Most of all, it’s a beautiful struggle.
Please do me a favor: Next time you meet a reporter, sincerely ask them how they feel before you pitch them whatever disruptive app you’re currently working on.