Why young journalist Kai Nagata quit his stable job

Kai Nagata in Chibougamau. Photo from his blog: kainagata.com

Kai Nagata was in a privileged position for a young journalist.

As CTV’s Quebec City Bureau Chief, he had a well-paying position, decision-making power, collegial ties, and even retirement options … all at the age of 24.

And then this:

After I finished reading Kai’s  personal essay “Why I quit my job” — an impassioned post about the state of television news in Canada — I had to do more than retweet it.

I think he’s hit a nerve. At time of writing, his original post has generated hundreds of responses and has gone viral on social networking sites. People have called him everything from radical and insane to honest and brave. Many have commented on his age, which reminded me of something Samuel G. Freedman wrote in his book, Letters to a Young Journalist (2006).

Freedman, who teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, praises such critical yet optimistic attitudes in newly minted journalists. He argues that everyone should enter journalism believing it is a moral enterprise and that “your initial idealism must be a pilot light, flickering at times, but never extinguished.”

Good news: outside pressures are now forcing such conversations in journalistic circles, and this period of reflection is an opportunity. Journalism’s public nature and vulnerability is precisely what keeps it alive and changing. Perhaps by necessity, more reporters are taking the time to think about what defines their work, and why it matters.

Kai’s post has expressed why he’s getting out of television journalism, but it has also indirectly challenged other young journalists to ask themselves why they’re getting in. Even though he’s leaving us, I thank him for (re)igniting the conversation about journalism as a public good.

The battle against ignorance, intolerance and indifference is not a new one, not even when it comes to TV news.

I leave you with an excerpt from “Good Night and Good Luck,”. Here’s Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) on our journalistic duty to make television that matters:

… if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.

Read: Kai Nagata’s post “Why I quit my job”

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6 thoughts on “Why young journalist Kai Nagata quit his stable job

  1. What a great read. It’s true that most twentysomethings would find Kai’s gig enviable. He does break it down thoroughly, intelligently, and convincingly.

    Wow, I was surprised by the “looks vs. talent” unspoken ratio, and the body image issues that jounalists face.

    He hit the nail with channels covering the Kate and Will show over other newsworthy items.

    The paragraph about “war against science in Canada” is also compelling.

    • Thanks for the comment, Edi. I also (clearly) found the post compelling.

      I think that many of us, when frustrated by the limitations of our work, complain privately to close friends and convince ourselves that little can be done.

      By doing this in public, and challenging journalism to do better, Kai has already done much more than most ever will.
      He has shed his institutional identity for individual introspection – even if it might mean starting over.

      I think it’s brave, and I’m glad to see so many people discussing it.

      • Hi there! Kai’s mom here, diving back into the fray and reading more of the response and conversation: just one correction Fabiola: he’s still a journalist; he’s not leaving journalism, he’s leaving corporate TV journalism.

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  3. How much of a journalist’s stories are controlled by the media they work for? Maybe Kai found the reins too tight for comfort. A good journalist has an instinct for a story even when it is still in intangible. But are they allowed to cross this line to get to the real truth? Probably not. The example set by Kai Nagata might make the media aware of the constraints inside their systems and they, in turn, might lossen them a bit. I hope he finds another horse to ride. He certainly has a true spirit.

    • Hi Mary, thanks for your question. It’s a really big one!

      At UBC we did a lot of debating about this very issue. There are many variables to consider: the news organization’s medium, mandate, code of ethics, financial restraints, newsroom culture, etc. Some individual journalists are willing to bite the hand that feeds, while others cheer-lead for their employers.

      Many thinkers have examined the internal mechanisms of the media and have explained journalism as an institution in different ways. Some are very critical (Chomsky’s propaganda model for instance) and others think that the old institutional model is now being opened up and challenged (Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen).

      Young journalists like myself, and clearly like Kai, have many things to weigh. I’ve decided that journalism, with all its flaws, is important enough to fight for from the inside.
      Kai made a different choice, and I think that’s great. I think we’d both agree, however, that our first duty should be to the citizens we serve.

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