I sent out this tweet from my @debrabass account early yesterday:
Stress, public scrutiny, added duties, pay, 24/7 alert make Newspaper Reporter “Worst job” in 2013 poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/211353/newspaper-reporter-is-worst-job-in-2013 … #iflovinguiswrong
The hashtag translates to “it loving you is wrong…” from the I-don’t-wanna-do-right refrain.
Apparently, yet another career study — there have been many — has decided that journalism sucks.
Why? You’re never really off-duty. This is something that I can attest to. Even if you’re not working, your mind is. Conversations often lead to story idea. Driving down a new route can spark a question. Sometimes before bed, I get an epiphany about how to write something or something I’d like to write about.
Anything, anywhere and anybody can be a news story. If I’m not anxious to write about it myself, I’m often pitching a co-worker. And, yes, even though I cover fashion, I’m a reporter. If something big goes down, it’s all hands on deck and I’m in.
My predecessor was in New York covering fashion week during that fateful Sept. 11. Guess who started cranking out page 1 news of the attack.
OK, so journalists stay busy. Deadlines are inherently stressful and that’s kinda when most of us do our best work (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves). Everyone has deadlines, but few people run the risk of public humiliation because they misspelled a name or got a fact wrong (any fact, I have woken up in a cold sweat wondering if I forgot something vital or worse got something incorrect into print). It’s terrifying, no question. If only we had more time to proof-read and more proof readers and more comfortable chairs and a roaming chai cart and … well, guess what, we have the time we have and then it’s done. We have to suck it up, write like hell, make sure it’s right and finish on time.
And yes, to the added duties. I do a lot more different duties that I did when I started. I blog (not just here about work but during the day for work). I produce videos. I appear on television. I record audio features. I take photos and participate in … I can’t even count how many social media platforms. I stay busy. All journalists do.
When we aren’t working, we’re reading. When we aren’t reading, we’re talking, watching television, engaging with the world and it’s all work-related. Our jobs are to tell stories. Our jobs are to make the world a little smaller and more relatable by introducing people to bits of information they didn’t necessarily know that they needed to know.
So I don’t dispute the “worst job” title, how can I, if those are the criteria worst then we’ve got it. But most of my colleagues also believe we’re part of the public service population.
And not for nothing, if an actuary (hello, best job of the year) and a reporter walk into a bar, I can tell you who I’d rather sit next to.
When I talk to my colleagues, I’ll tell you something … we are not convinced that we are the lowest of the low, but we aren’t going to argue about it. We’re too busy. Besides, I love what I do and every year that I get to continue working at a newspaper is a gift. I will be very very sad if one day, this profession is no longer viable, I’m sure the actuaries can tell us the risks of that happening but I’d rather not write that story.
Sure, I wish there was more time to concentrate on the stories I tell. I wish there was less thankless busy work (resizing photographs, playing phone tag, coding blog entries, editing copy to fit into a 19-inch space instead of a 24-inch space) and more of the true bliss that is telling a good story well, but the world is different. We tell stories differently. We tell stories faster.
And about the pay, journalist salaries have lagged low as long as I’ve been in this industry. I will celebrate my 10th year at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this summer and a newly graduated actuary will make more than I do. The median actuary salary is $87,650.
I shrug at this. I knew what I was getting into. I was accepted into a pre-law program and a pre-med program during my senior year in high school. I chose journalism because journalism chose me. I began university as a psychology major, I wanted to become a psychiatrist. I chose this profession at the age of five or so and I never deviated, until I took a journalism course in college from a former city editor at a daily newspaper. She changed my life.
It kills me that one day I’ll probably have to leave the ranks — newspapers audiences are shrinking and so are our ranks.
But anyone reading an obscure blog about a newspaper fashion editor knows something that those fancy career aggregating number crunching, happiness projectors don’t, we aren’t here to celebrate the worst job in America. We’re here because telling stories is cool. Telling stories is frigging wonderful. And whether I’m talking about an androgynous model, wedding dresses, convertible clothing or trademark infringement, I’m trying to touch people and make them think, smile or react.
“Worst job” my ass.