Tuesday, April 23, 2013

NEWSPAPER REPORTER: AMERICA'S WORST JOB?

 
  This just in from CNN.com:
             
Careercast.com lists best and worst jobs in America
 
Careercast.com asks this question every year: What are the worst jobs in America? What are the best?
Well the list is out, and it looks like newspaper reporters officially have the worst job in America, with a median income of about $36,000 a year.
The study takes into account things like income, industry outlook, stress and physical demands in its rankings.
The top 5 list of worst jobs include:
1- Newspaper reporter
2- Lumberjack
3- Enlisted military
4- Actor
5- Oil rig worker

Now that we know about the worst, what about the best? Being an actuary tops the list, with an income around $87,000 a year.
The top 5 list of the best jobs include:
1- Actuary
2- Biochemical engineer
3- Software engineers
4- Augiologist
5- Financial planner.


Please note that in this latest poll, "newspaper reporter" has managed to claw its way to the pinnacle of the "Worst Jobs" list, replacing "lumberjack," which formerly was the top worst job. At the top of the "Best Jobs" list is "actuary," you know, those wonderful folks who massage statistics for insurance companies to determine when you are likely to have a major car wreck or a fatal heart attack early enough to cancel your policy before having a major payout. As I see it, this is still further proof that when the world, as we know it, ends, the only things left will be cockroaches and insurance companies.

Of course, it's easy to make jokes about this sort of survey which takes into account only, as noted in the CNN story, things like income, industry outlook, stress and physical demands. Glaringly missing as being among the considered factors are things like the importance of the occupation to society and the satisfaction derived from doing the job.

For those of us who've been in the newspaper business for any length of time, low rankings of the reporter's craft are nothing new. When I came into the business 43 years ago, it was widely known that on the "who-do-you-trust" scale, reporters ranked just above used car salesmen near the bottom of the list. That was even before the advent of "best-and-worst-job" lists.

As you might expect, I disagree that being a newspaper reporter is the worst job in America. But, when you take into account the factors used by careercast.com to come up with that ranking you can understand how it might have been arrived at.

In terms of income, let's face it, when we came into this business we did so with the understanding  that we would never get rich if we chose to stick with it. And in recent years, considering the condition of the business, that is getting even less likely what with layoffs, furloughs, actual pay reductions and no raises in years, unless you are working in a Newspaper Guild shop where there are contractual increases in scale up to, usually, five or six years of experience.

As for industry outlook, well, see the above. It's no secret that the newspaper industry is in trouble and is making nowhere near the border line obscene profits it previously made -- once about double the profits of most other U.S. industries. It was that level of profits that attracted the "outside investors," who today are putting on the squeeze that has shrunk every department in nearly every newspaper across the country in an effort to maintain those returns. The fact, however, is that, in general, newspapers are still at least as profitable as the average American industry while continuing to be the only industry that not only still sells its product for less than it costs to produce it, but has also resorted to giving its product away for free via the Internet.

The stress of the job is also something I think most of us understood coming in. Any job where you are constantly on deadline and racing with the clock from the moment you arrive in the morning until you leave in the evening is by definition stressful and that's on an ordinary news day. Then, when you add things like a terrorist bombing, a plant explosion, a tornado, a hurricane, a jetliner crash or any of the myriad of other breaking news stories that require extraordinary effort to cover --  and do so quickly and accurately -- the stress level can reach a near breaking point. Sometimes I think that the only job more stressful than being a newspaper reporter might be brain surgeon, minus the exorbitant fees, huge house and garage full of classic cars.

Of course, when it gets to the physical demand of the job...well, not so much. For sure, it is significantly more physically demanding to be lumberjack, the supposed second worse job. Let's face it, newspaper reporters don't to a lot of heavy lifting, except maybe to every now and then move a large stack of accumulated newspapers from on tops of their desks to the recycling barrel way across the newsroom.

What surveys like careercast.com's best and worst jobs ranking don't take into account is the satisfaction of doing the job and doing it well. That's what still keeps so many of us in the newspaper business despite the low pay, the jakey industry outlook and the enormous stress. We do it because we firmly believe it to be a job that is important to society and this is especially true in today's era of so much opinionated and tainted misinformation that clogs the web and social media. We do it because, at the end of the day, there is still no feeling like seeing your name at the top of that column of type that is a story you had to struggle mightily, despite sources dodging you or obfuscating at every turn, to gather and write -- and write well -- against the pressure of time, with an editor screaming in your ear, "gotta have it and gotta have it NOW."

Yep, I suppose that by the way careercast.com measures it, being a newspaper reporter might just be the worst job in America. However, by the way most of us who are in or have been in the business measure it, it remains among the most noble, meaningful and selfless of occupations -- not to mention being just a whole hell of a lot more fun than being an actuary.

                                                       -30-

Your comments are welcome.