Kai Nagata had it made.
At 24 years old, he became the Quebec City bureau chief for CTV, one of Canada's most prominent television networks. Working out of the National Assembly, it was his job to communicate to nationwide audiences the developments in one of Canada's most important provinces. His job was the envy of every young journalist whose ambition it is to build a career covering politics (that's a lot of us.)
And then, abruptly, he quit. On July 7, he punched in for his last day, worried, according to a 3,000-word essay he published on his blog, about a growing gap between his job and his "self." He felt his soul stifled by television news, a medium that is particular about its format and style.
In his essay, Nagata detailed a laundry list of complaints about television news: that it hires people based on looks; that its needs are often secondary to the commercial needs of the networks that broadcast it.
The essay quickly went viral. It was linked 1,500 times on Twitter and picked up by Roger Ebert, Margaret Atwood and The Huffington Post. People came to see his essay as a rant akin to Howard Beale from Network , shanking television journalism for what he saw as a vacuous, soul-sucking monster that demanded he sacrifice his opinions at the altar of career advancement.
Nagata seems to me yet another in a growing list of Generation Y journalists who naively feel they don't have to settle for anything less than perfection, or a work situation that doesn't suit them exclusively.
These people lead me to ponder an important question: are Generation Y journalists inflating their expectations beyond something realistic?
Now when I say Generation Y, I mean people born between 1980 and 2010 - the generation referenced more derisively as "Generation Me" or "Failure to Launch." They're people who grew up being promised the world. When we grew up, the Baby Boomers would retire and we would be free to mould the world in our image.
That hasn't quite happened. Mandatory retirement has been eliminated and today's twenty-somethings find themselves chomping at the bit to get the jobs we feel we deserve. That we're not getting what was promised us is making us impatient, impertinent and frustrated.
Kai Nagata got a great job, setting himself on a career trajectory that, with CTV Quebec on his resume, could have seen him reporting from Parliament Hill by the time he was 30. It was his job's imperfection that drove him to leave his post.
Nagata isn't alone among Gen Y journalists in shunning work he doesn't feel is perfect. These days I meet lots of young journalists, my contemporaries, who will not settle for less than the top.
Many young journalists today think themselves too good to work at community papers. I know this because I have forwarded numerous job postings at this paper to my alma mater. A job posting for reporting work in possibly the best small community in Canada has only yielded one application that I know of from a journalism school at a major university.
That isn't a criticism of the school, but of the students who have allowed themselves to inflate their expectations.
At journalism conferences I have heard about editors interviewing recent journalism grads for internships, and the journalists have been reluctant to settle for something less than a job as a political columnist. On the journey from A to Z, they've wanted to skip over B, C, D and E.
I have trouble building any sympathy for people like Kai Nagata. I have known journalists who would have sacrificed a puppy to get to the heights he reached in his young years, and who would have done everything in their power to stay there.
Kai leaving his job for the reasons he listed is like being handed a Ferrari and complaining about its colour.
His is an arrogance that isn't true of all my contemporaries. I know many who have worked extremely hard to get where they are. They have toiled in basements at student newspapers and worked themselves broke at unpaid internships. The young journalists who dig in the trenches deserve every success that is coming to them.
I merely worry that many Gen Y journalists such as Kai are allowing themselves to be defeated by stratospheric expectations. They feel they can jump from one opportunity to the next without realizing the tough groundwork it takes to get there. And when they get passed over, or when the job they get isn't everything they expected, they will be crippled emotionally.
Kai Nagata's essay isn't a dissection of all that's wrong with television journalism. It's a case study in how not to let your expectations defeat you.