FINDING PURPOSE IN A JOURNALISM CAREER
February 24, 2021
My guest for this episode is Adam Bulger, a multi-platform creator and journalist. In this episode we walk through his journey through different forms of journalism including his involvement as the founding editor of patch.com.
Beyond having a talent for writing and story-telling, he shares how having a clear purpose for what he was doing greatly helped him achieve his goals.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[00:00] Hi, and welcome to the High Functioning Hotspot with me, Dr. Chloe Carmichael. I'm a clinical psychologist in New York City, and this is my podcast slash YouTube show where I get to talk to high functioning people from my life that I know. Some of them I know, and some of them, I just reach out to online because I'm interested in them.
[00:27] And today's guest is actually a journalist named Adam Bulger , who has interviewed me several times for Fatherly, which is a publication that obviously caters fathers. And we've had some really interesting talks about parenthood and journalism and I was interested in his input on being a high functioning person himself.
[00:50]I'm just always interested in successful people and how they get there. And I think it does take a lot to be a successful working professional journalist these days who can actually also support a family doing it. So I wanted the chance to just learn about Adam from that perspective, but also to hear and talk to him about what it means to be high functioning as a father, since he is a father himself and writes about it.
[01:14]So whether you're a parent or not. I think that there'll be something, hopefully that's interesting for you in this discussion with this high-functioning person journalist Adam Bulger.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[01:30]Hi Adam. How's it going?
Adam Bulger[01:32] Oh, there you are.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[01:33]Hi. How are you?
Adam Bulger[01:34]Thanks. How are you?
Dr Chloe Carmichael[01:36] Hey, it's so nice to see you face to face. I know we've talked a lot over the year or two but this is our first time meeting face to face.
Adam Bulger[01:46] That's right. It's first. Yeah, we've always spoken over the telephone.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[01:50] As you know, this show is called the High Functioning Hotspot. And I like to talk to high functioning people, just kind of about what they do and how they got to be there. And I know a lot of people would love to be able to have a professional career as a journalist, as a writer, but it's not an easy thing to just get that. So would you mind sharing, like how you got there, what some of the struggles were and how you made it?
Adam Bulger[02:18] Sure. I would probably start by casting some doubt on the notion that I made it. That's probably a good place to start. The struggle continues to struggle as a perpetual. So, I've been a journalist for about 20 years for a variety of publications for I've written for a lot of newspapers, websites and magazines.
[02:45] I've been a local reporter. I helped found a website called patch.com, which people might be familiar with. It was like a local news network and doing that I was covering the police and fires and government meetings and very straight down the middle local news reporting, very community oriented, local news reporting.
[03:12] And then around the time that my wife was pregnant with my daughter, I went all freelance and that was a big sort of shifting this stuff that I was covering, which became more oriented towards, finance and psychology. Two things that are probably more interrelated than people might think.
[03:34] And yeah. And I've had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Chloe several times, about psychology and how it pertains to families for fatherly.com, which is the parenting site that I contribute to quite often. It's a great site where we write about everything, pertaining to be a father.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[03:55] Yeah. And I do want to talk to you about fatherhood too, but I'm just still curious about even being a news reporter, like a lot of people would love to be able to have a job as a news reporter and you were writing the news, you know, even for local news on camera, on the air. How did that come about?
Adam Bulger[04:16] I had been working for newspapers for a couple of years. I was working for weekly newspapers and writing a lot of features and covering a lot of things like, you know, a lot of straight news as well, but trying to inject as much personality as I could. And I had a friend who was involved with digital news startup. We just got to talking and I realized that all of those kind of brick and mortar skills I've been doing for years as a journalist had direct bearing on the project they were trying to do. Which turned out to be patched, which as you said correctly it integrated a lot of different storytelling methods to report the news, which included audio and video and text and, engaging with social media, and very much involved being part of the community that I was covering.
[05:08] So, I always tell people it was like Mayberry if that's not too dated ever reference. The Andy Griffith show, that was the town very dated, too dated. All right. So let's see, it was like Pawnee on Parks and Recreation. Newer show.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[05:23] Okay. Yeah. I don't watch a lot of TV, but I actually did watch The Andy Griffith show growing up.
Adam Bulger[05:28] Okay. Well, it was, so it was a small town and everybody knew everybody. The barber knew the police chief and, the police chief knows the mom who bakes the pies and she knows the teacher and they know the reporter who's always around. That's what it felt like. I felt like I was the reporter in Mayberry. And it was great because people knew me and I could see how my stories were enriching their lives and informing them on a day-to-day basis.
[05:56] It was pretty wonderful. So that would be my advice to anybody who wants to be in journalism is to try to figure out why you want to be in journalism and what you're doing. Why do you want to provide people with information? And that'll give you a clearer idea of what you want to do with journalism.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[06:16] Did you have to overcome a lot of rejection along the way?
Adam Bulger[05:28] Certainly. Yes.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[06:21] How did you handle that?
Adam Bulger[06:24] With a mix of healthy and unhealthy reactions I think. Like most people so sometimes you'd be very discouraged and you'd wonder why that would happen.
[06:36] And how does this reflect on me? What did I do wrong, or what's wrong with me? And then some nine other times you're able to say like, well, I wasn't a great fit for this or other things will come along or so forth.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[06:51] You know, that's an interesting one because for anybody that wants to do anything involving being on camera, it is ultimately super cutthroat.
[07:01] You know, there's thousands of people that would take your position. And I always feel like it's a balance because as you said, asking the question, if you didn't get the part or the role, to a certain degree, it is the healthy question to reflect and to say, what did I do wrong? What could I have done better?
[07:19] But of course at the same time, you also have to really know when it had nothing to do with you, because you could also actually, almost correct yourself the wrong way if you started thinking it was stuff about you when it had nothing to do with you. So it takes a lot of awareness. I'm curious though too, Adam, like what do you think ultimately kind of helped you to be one of the ones who made it versus other people who just, they never seem to really make it click.
[07:53] They never really get it off the ground. What do you think helped you to stand out and don't be afraid to brag a little bit. Okay.
Adam Bulger[07:59] Sure. Well, I'm very confident in my abilities as a writer. I think if you read my stories, I think they're very good. I think that just as in so far as writing, I think I'm just better than most people.
[08:11] I just have a better sense of language and better flair for storytelling and just how to get information across via words. And, the other thing, is what I was trying to talk about earlier, which is that I figured out the reason for what I was doing. I had a clear purpose in mind with my writing, which at the one I was doing a local journalism at that time it was to help this community to be a part of this community and enrich their lives and trying to figure out what, what would help them in both the short term and long. Like sometimes there would be a power outage and I would just have to give people information about.
[08:49] What happens to power? When is it coming back? Here's where you can get water and gasoline and so forth. And other times it was like, okay, here's this complicated government action and let me explain it to you and why it's important. But now that I write parenting things, which you might imagine it's not relatable to local news, but the approach is the same.
[09:14] I think about. The purpose of what I'm doing. And it's very clear to me the purpose of what I'm doing with all of my fatherly stories, which is try to try to inject some compassion and empathy into these stories and build a case that fathers are more alike than they're different and we all need some help. And we shouldn't be afraid to ask for it.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[09:39] Yeah, definitely. And again, I really do want to talk to you about the father stuff because I'm actually kind of toying with the idea of like even potentially writing a book about high functioning parenting.
[09:55] Yeah, it would be fun. I'd probably include some quotes from you. I was also curious just on the journalist part because you mentioned like sometimes that you felt like you were kind of forming people. And the reason for what you were doing is community membership. And sometimes that could involve even conveying information about government actions and things.
[10:16] And that makes me think a lot about what's going on in the news and the media right now. There's a lot of I think questions and as a psychologist, I'm really interested in that. What does it mean to be really objective? Like, is it possible even when we choose a story? And as a psychologist, again, I almost think it would
[10:37] almost be impossible for someone to say either that they have no opinion or that their opinion in no way shapes the words or the behaviors that they think about. So can you speak to that for a moment as a journalist .
Adam Bulger[10:52] Your supposition I think is, is almost entirely correct? I think it is impossible to be completely objective especially in writing about politics information, and in government rather. I would say definitely that there's a lot of things you can write about and cover that you can write about objection, objectively that is just when you're just relating facts and they're not, controversial or the facts are not in doubt.
[11:20] Like if there is an earthquake. And you report how bad the earthquake was and what the damage was. And here's the reporting agency that reported it. And here's where I got the information from. It's very straightforward. However, if you're reporting anything related to an elected official, anything elect anything related to a political party or a politician, then things get a little bit dicier.
[11:48] And just in terms of how much your experience and your thoughts and your point of view is going to inform that story. It would be impossible for you, we all personally filter everything, we filter reality through ourselves. You know, that filter is always there. It's always there.
[12:15] And so if you're trying to express what reality is, it's unavoidable that you're going to use that filter. You're going to use them kind of relate your perspective or your opinion or your feelings, you know? So I'd say it's impossible to be perfectly objective and news reporting with about politics.
[12:39] But I think that most journalists do the best that they can. And, I mean the reason why I'm qualifying that statement is I don't want people to think that the news is fake or that the news is too biased or that you're just getting some kind of propaganda, which you're not.
[12:59] And this is a more nuanced idea just that who you are is going to inform how you process and explain reality almost all the time.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[13:09] Yeah, well, I mean, I think actually factual inaccuracies in the news are happening quite often. So I don't think that you're planting a concern in people's minds by talking about that.
[13:22] I think it's kind of an elephant in the room. I'm curious, also part of the reason I'll share with you. I'm so curious is because on September 30th, we have our first debate and I'm actually going to be on the air, on television, commenting on body language of the candidates.
[13:40] And so to be honest, I'm a little nervous about that. And because I think that there can be so much hostility and anger and confusion from people. To be honest, I almost was like afraid to even do this piece. I was just like, I just don't know if that makes sense for me to do, but somebody I really know and trust said Clay, I really think that you would be the perfect person to do this because you really don't have an angle that you're trying to in any way, take a side in it. So I decided to give it a try. But I'm curious, Adam, you've had a lot of experience and you mentioned having reported like in government related stuff before. Have you ever had a time, like when you knew like that you had an opinion, but you were trying to figure out how to remove that part of yourself and really just report objectively?
Adam Bulger[14:39] Yes. It's sort of inevitable, like when you're covering government, because government is composed of people. And you have to interact with them on a regular basis. And when you interact with people on a regular basis to get to know them and you form relationships and, sometimes forming those relationships can, can make it difficult to report the news.
[15:02] That's sort of the challenge of it. Not just your own sort of thoughts and biases, but your experience with a person. If you're reporting on somebody and you've like had lunch with them or something of that nature. You're gonna think of him as a friend or if you've had a set amount of shared experience, whatever it is, even something small. You think of them like a friend and that can make it difficult to say, to write difficult things about them.
[15:31] It can be difficult to write things that are true, that would make them uncomfortable. You think about their feelings or you think about the relationship that you have. And that can be a violation of the public trust because sometimes you have to put that aside and sometimes this person that you have a nice relationship with has done something wrong or has a bad some kind of view that might be destructive. And you have to report on that.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[15:56] So, has that ever cost you relationships?
Adam Bulger[15:59] Yes. Oh yeah.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[16:01] Wow. And how old were you, Adam, when you knew that you wanted to be a journalist?
Adam Bulger[16:06] I was in my twenties, like around, just graduating from college. And I decided I wanted to be a journalist after I had started being a journalist. I always wanted to write, and then I got a writing assignment that involved calling people up and doing some research and getting quotes and stuff. And then, it wasn't until like I did that about four or five times that somebody told me it was journalism. I just thought it was writing and whatever. So, yeah, so that's it.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[16:40] Yeah. And so you are a father yourself, right? And tell me how many kids do you have and what is it like being a journalist about fatherhood when you are a father? What's the overlap like?
Adam Bulger[16:52] Well, I only have one. I have one daughter, she's six years old.
[16:57] Her name is Agatha. she's upstairs watching the new Paw Patrol movie as we speak. Yeah, a virtual remote learning broke a little early today. And the overlap to me is I think that when you become a parent, you suddenly finally have a lot in common with your fellow parents and that realization can kind of take you by surprise, because I think that maybe.
[17:25] Prior to that, maybe you thought you had a lot in common with other people, but now you suddenly had this extremely strong connection with other people. And you're able to understand their situation almost instantly especially with very young children. Like if somebody has a baby.
[17:48] You see somebody walking around with the baby. I know that you're a parent as well, Chloe, you know that experience and like you see somebody as a baby and like, yes, I know that I know exactly what you're doing and it's taking a lot of willpower for me, not just to run up to you and give you like 20 minutes of advice right now.
[18:06] Or, you know, 20 minutes of observation and reminiscing or whatever, whatever I'm thinking and feeling. And as a journalist, that's been a really valuable thing to tap into because you only start writing about things that pertain to fatherhood, things that pertain to being a parent. And you just know that it's true and relatable and that the people that are reading it will get it instantly. And they'll understand and it'll be valuable to them.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[18:98] And have you ever, and I almost assume the answer is yes. So I'm just curious about this. As a psychologist, I work with a lot of people and self-esteem is something a lot of people think about. And especially with high functioning people when we're privileged to be able to do work that is really so personal to us.
[18:58] When you get the privilege to take your art and put it out there and share it with the world in this way. At the same time it can be, I imagine so raw. If it's ever happened to you that have you ever had someone like slam that work and then it's like, they're not only slamming the art, but if they're also talking about you as a father and your perspectives as a father. Do you just want to crawl under your bed and crumple? Or like, what do you do?
Adam Bulger[19:26] I had have an early in my career. I couldn't really handle criticism, cause nobody likes criticism. I don't think anybody's like, Oh, great. Yeah.You know, nobody likes somebody coming up to you and saying, Oh, here's where you went wrong.
[19:47] Here's what's bad about what you did and so forth. I don't think anybody gets a flood of dopamine from that. I don't think anybody feels like happy or comfortable. Yeah. You're never going to be like, this is great. This rules. But then over time, like the first time it hurts a lot.
[20:05] And then the second time, a little less than third time, a little less. And after a while you're like, Oh, okay, whatever. I don't care. Not that I don't care, not that you don't have a valuable set, there might be some value there, but it doesn't really hurt this criticism doesn't hurt. I will say though, cause you asked about the fatherly stuff.
[20:25] I've really not gotten a lot of negative reaction to it. I would like to think because it's good. I like to think that's both a flattering to myself and it's also true that I think it's good, but I think it's also people can recognize the compassion I'm trying to employ when I'm writing these stories.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[20:49] Oh, that's beautiful. I mean, I think so too, but I mean, at the same time, there's just, there's crackpots out there in the world, you know, like that's for me, what I've tried to remember is that it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with anything that you even actually said. It's like, someone can just be in that bad moment and whatever was in front of them.
[21:12] At that time, they were going to, you know, go. Go there. So to speak just I've had to work on developing a thicker skin sometimes myself.
Adam Bulger[21:21] It's hard. It's hard, but it just gets a little bit easier every time I find.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[21:26] Yeah. Yeah. Cool. So we have a few minutes left, Adam. I mean, I'm just curious, if you don't mind sharing with me what are one or two messages as a father, like the high-functioning people out there that want to be a high functioning father or a high functioning mother? What would you say to them?
Adam Bulger[21:47] I'd say don't worry about being a high functioning mother or father, first of all. I mean, I think that if you're trying to, I would worry about people who are trying to be a high functioning parent, that they'll be putting too much stress on that goal and creating too much anxiety for their family.
[22:08] Cause it's something that you and I have talked about, which is modeling behavior for your kids. And so you don't want your kids to be like insanely stressed out. You don't want them to be crippled by anxiety. You don't want them to be like worried and only spinning and always like, Oh, we got to do this, we got to do that. No, you want them to be calm and peaceful and functioning human beings and people who understand that life isn't about beating yourself up and going crazy.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[22:38] Let me just maybe rephrase that because I didn't really even clarify what I meant by that, but they being a high functioning parent would absolutely include that you would model a relaxed and secure attitude, but that you would also have goals and that the part of being a high functioning parent is that you would want to think about all those things you're saying of making sure you don't, turn your home into a pressure cooker environment, but that you also make sure that you are providing stimulation and challenges and not just kind of missing opportunities but anyway, let me just rephrase the question.
[23:16]What about if you had the chance to share just one or two Adam Bulger nuggets of wisdom that you just wish every parent would know?
Adam Bulger[23:27] You know, could I have a second to think?
Dr Chloe Carmichael[23:30] Absolutely. Absolutely. So, yeah, I mean, I guess another question while you think maybe is just, what's your favorite thing about, being a journalist?
Adam Bulger[23:38] I like talking to people. I like when I'm talking to people for a story and it's something that they're interested in and they're passionate about it, or they know a lot about it. And you can very quickly get to know people very well in those conversations, because you can tap into what they're passionate about, what excites them, you know?
[24:03] So if I'm speaking with a psychotherapist like yourself, and we're talking about something that you have some expertise in. And then I hear it and you've been letting this you've been training for it and making it part of your life. And I get to very quickly share in a part of your life.
[24:20] that's very important to you. And I really cherish that and I got to really quick access to important parts of people's lives very regularly. And it's really a joyful experience.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[24:34] Yeah, I bet. I bet. So, anytime you want to jump in with the thoughts to do, but in the meantime, I'll share with you. I mean I have to admit, as I mentioned, I was thinking, I'm kind of thinking about writing a book about high functioning parenting because my book Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of your Anxiety for Success is coming in March. And my agent has already been talking to me about potentially doing a book, about high-functioning parenting and I'll admit it like I've read Tiger Mom.
[25:02] I love that stuff because I actually feel like if you have the raw materials, it's almost criminal to fail to offer your child those opportunities. My son is three and a half and he's been taking piano lessons since he was two, he's been doing Taekwondo since he was 18 months. And he's reading books by himself in the hooked on phonics system.
[25:26] Books I've never read to him before he's able to read them. And I love it. And of course, I also love that he's a good communicator and he's deeply affectionate and he is responsible, and I love communicating those things to him. And I was a yoga teacher before I was a psychologist. And so I've also taught him a lot about using your breath to do things.
He had a ball the other day, like a Wiffle ball and he had it really far and they said, Billy that was amazing. How did you do that? And he looked at me and he said, I did it with my breath. I was like, that is just so cool. Cause I could really see he did it and like he hit it, he used his breath.
[26:12] So I kind of use the word high-functioning parenting without shame. I feel like it's me. It's not about creating like a some kind of a sterile-achievement-only environment. But, I think that you're a high functioning person and I think I am too. And I think that we just have a zest. And to me, that's what I mean about high functioning parents.
Adam Bulger[26:38] Right? Well, the one thing I always remember with my daughter, is that, and this is very hard for high functioning people who are parents is that she's not me. And her interests and her passions are not going to line up perfectly with mine. That's the first thing. So I don't need her to write.
[27:02] Her name is Agatha she's named after a writer, but she doesn't need to write. She doesn't need to do journalism. She is actually right now, more aptitude with math than with language and, you know, wonderful. That's wonderful. You're not an extension of me.
[27:19] You don't need to do that. You don't need to be like me. Exactly. You know? So that's the first thing. The second thing is, I would say it's really to build on what you said about sterile kind of achievement stuff. You had a better word than stuff and I don't quite recall it, but give your kids some freedom to find their own passions.
And that's the things that they'll probably want to pursue the most. I mean, you have to do that within reason, but, I might, when I was a kid, my parents really pushed me into sports and stuff, and I never responded that well to it. As an adult, I learned to really love fitness and exercise just as a thing, a reward unto itself just makes you feel good and so forth, but I'd never liked competitive sports. And the things that I really liked reading and I really liked playing music and being more creative stuff.
[28:19] And that's really where I put my energy towards. And that's really where I found a lot of happiness and success in my life with that stuff. So I am so grateful to my parents. They did give me that freedom. They give me the freedom to pursue what I wanted to pursue. I guess you want your kid to you want them to have the experience playing baseball, but you know, that's fine, but it didn't really work out for me.
You know, so yeah. Give it, give your kids freedom to pursue their passions. I think that's, I think that's the thing. I would really stress the most.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[28:52] Thanks Adam. I mean it's a good one, I think because it is a fine line and I'm glad you brought up the example of baseball because yes, on the one hand you want to just let your kids kind of follow their passion, follow their will.
[29:05] But on the other hand, if you don't structure a child to learn the alphabet they'll never learn how to write and have that passion. And so sometimes I think even just what they taught you with baseball, even though you didn't end up liking baseball, maybe what you did learn is how to adhere to something even if it doesn't feel right. You know, like a thrill in the moment, but you learned something about self-discipline and following through on stuff. So it's such a factor.
Adam Bulger[29:40] And as well as I work being part of a team and working with other people towards a common goal, when a lot of creative pursuits, you're not worth writing you're on your own. But if you're doing art. If you're doing music, you might play with ensemble, you might work with the team to create art or how to struck people or manage them, or learn how to communicate your ideas and do that in a way that's not gonna, and to communicate them under stress.
[30:10] And so things like, you know, being in a baseball game where you'd be like, no, throw it a third. And after you have to work with other people and be under a little bit of stress and communicate clearly and quickly.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[30:25] I mean, I think for those listeners who are not even necessarily parents, I think that it's so interesting because the things that we do want to teach our kids about that combination between self-discipline and knowing what you want to do and following your passion, those are things either that we need to teach our kids or for many of us, we have to learn how to almost parent ourselves at a certain point too. So, I love what you're saying about wanting to give people latitude, but then also finding that place where as a parent, you are supposed to provide the structure.
[31:02]I think for me with that book, if I do it about high-functioning parenthood, that would be probably one of the areas I might look at. So Adam, I know usually it's just about a 30 minute show, so I've kept you a little bit longer, but is there, what's the best way we'll put all your handles in the show notes, just for people that are more audio. Is there any particular way that, people can find you?
Adam Bulger[31:26] If you Google Fatherly, Adam Bulger, you get to my fatherly stories pretty quickly. My Twitter handle is Adam R Bulger and my personal website, which collects a lot of my highlights and my stories is misterbulger.com.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[31:40] Oh, M I S T E R B U L G E R.
Okay. Do you have a newsletter?
Adam Bulger[31:51] No, I should.
Dr Chloe Carmichael[31:52] I wish you did. Yeah, I would totally subscribe. Okay, Adam, till the next time. Well, it was so great to be able to sit and talk with Adam a little bit. To turn the tables on him. Usually he's asking me the questions in our interview is, and so this time I actually got to ask him the questions for once.
[32:09] And so that was pretty fun to do. And I hope that you'll come to the next episode of High Functioning Hotspot. Make sure that you hit the subscribe button if there is one. Or if you leave a comment in the comments section about anything that you particularly enjoyed or any questions? I may start even reading some of the comments on the air in future episodes.
[32:28] And I always do love to hear from people. So if you're on social media, I'm on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, everywhere. So wherever your favorite places to be, come and find Dr. Chloe. Yeah, DRCHLOE. If you type that in with whatever social media, that's how you'd find me. There's also links hopefully in the show notes of wherever you're watching this. Thanks again and see you next time.
- The High Functioning Podcast Homepage - www.TheHighFunctioningHotspot.com
- Patch - https://patch.com/
- Fatherly - https://www.fatherly.com/
- Dr. Chloe’s Homepage - http://drchloe.com/
- Adam Bulger’s Website - https://misterbulger.com/
- Adam Bulger’s LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/adam-bulger/
- Adam Bulger’s Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/adam.bulger
- Adam Bulger’s Twitter - https://twitter.com/adamrbulger
- Adam Bulger’s Instagram – https://instagram.com/adamrbulger