Is newspaper reporter really the worst job out there?

Average salaries for journalism-related jobs. News reporter's average $35,000, according to Indeed.com

Average salaries for journalism-related jobs. News reporters average $35,000, according to Indeed.com

If you’re reading it here for the first time, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. Being a journalist, in many ways, is kind of terrible.

The pay isn’t great, it’s pull-out-your-hair stressful, the hours are sub-human, and roughly half of your readership will hate your guts on at least one occasion (if you’re doing it right, that is).

But as if journos needed anyone to tell them about how bad it is to do what we do, CareerCast figured they would rub it in a bit, placing “newspaper reporter” at the top of their list of Worst Jobs of 2013. Last year, it was fifth worst.

By CareerCast’s assessment, “Ever-shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets and competition from Internet businesses have created very difficult conditions for newspaper reporters.” Any by their assessment, that makes working for a newspaper worse than being a lumberjack, a soldier, or an actor – worst jobs numbers 2, 3 and 4.

Journalists, predictably, were not convinced. Although you can bet it’s been a hot topic in newsrooms and whiskey purveyors around the country over the last two weeks.

Some, like Phoenix Business Journal Managing Editor Patrick O’Grady, deflected accusations by pointing out that so many people who report the news aren’t actually “newspaper reporters” anymore, per se.

“I’m not just a newspaper reporter. I haven’t been one for the better part of a decade. Think about where you’re reading this. You’re not reading this in a newspaper, are you?”

Beth Kassab, local news columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, offered a list of 10 reasons why being a newspaper reporter actually rules. It’s great, and worth a read, but here are numbers 10 and 1:

10. Variety. At what other job can you write about backyard chickens, gun violence and teacher evaluations — all in one week?

1. Making a difference. Two recent examples: The Sentinel’s reporting on hazing at Florida A&M University led to the university president’s resignation. More recently, a judge suspended Orange County’s home-confinement program after our report of repeated violations by a man accused of committing murder while under program supervision.

“I’ll take this job over an actuary any day,” Kassab writes. Actuary, for the record, is CareerCast’s #1 job, for sort-of plausible reasons.

To try to wrap my head around why it is, exactly, I’ve chosen such a problematic profession, I asked two journos – one, a student journalist, the other a former newspaper reporter currently doing something a little bit less traditional – what they thought.

Above is an interview with Meghan Frick, a senior at Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina. Before landing a job at The News-Topic in Lenoire, N.C., Frick was Managing Editor, and later Social Media Editor at App State’s student newspaper The Appalachian. Frick is actually a public relations major at that school, but her passion lies in news, and she says she’s undeterred by CareerCast’s findings. She wrote a blog post ( Tired and broke, but news is not the worst job in the United States ) on the subject two weeks ago.

In it, she says she’s sticking with journalism “because of the fire”:

That survey can’t measure the passion and push and unexplainable fire that wakes you up in the morning, that pushes you through a 12-hour day, that moves your fingers on the keys and your pen across the notebook and keeps your head from dropping onto the desk.

You don’t do this for the money or the job security or the work environment. If you wanted any of that, you never would have done it, or you would have gotten out fast.

You do it because of the fire.

A few highlights from our talk

*On being berated by readers:

“I’m so glad I’m in a profession where someone cares enough to call me 25 times … furious that i didn’t include this thing in the article because that means they’re reading, and that means they care.”

*On whether news is a short-term gig:

“I don’ think that you should go in with the mindset that you’re going to leave, because I think that disconnects you from the future of the industry. I think that jounralists right now needs to be all-hands-on-deck, and people who are in journalism need to be thinking, ‘How are we gonna find a sustainable business model?'”

*On “journalist” as a loosely defined job title

“I feel particularly strongly about staying at a print newspaper. I would like to be in a more web-based, maybe social media-based role eventually, but where that role is is not really my number one concern. I would work for a newspaper. I would work for a website. I would work for a blog. For me, it’s the journalism that matters, not what you put it in.”

[Notes: In our conversation, Frick mentions an ill-advised, sleep deprived decision The Appalachian made while she was working for it. You can read an account of it on Jim Romenesko’s blog here. Apologies, by the way, for mixing up Rochelle Gilken’s story with that of Allyson Bird, the former Palm Beach Post reporter who wrote an earth-shattering mini-memoir on her decision to leave news, in our interview. I managed to mix up my notes mid-conversation, and neither of us noticed. Sorry, Meghan!]

Follow Meghan on Twitter at @FrickMeghan

Picture 9

Follow John on Twitter at @Draillih

And here’s an interview with John Hilliard, who worked previously as a community journalist in Massachusetts.

[Note: Before I interviewed John, I didn’t exactly make it clear that I intended to publish his responses on the Internet – I know, I know: rookie mistake. As a result, John said some things in an earlier version that he didn’t want included here. What follows is an updated, modified version of our email correspondence.]

*First, you worked as a newspaper reporter for a number of years. From your experiences, is it really the worst job out there?

I saw the CareerCast piece before. I think this is silly. There are serious problems in journalism (largely financial) right now, and a lot of people looking at ways to redefine the form and role of journalism, but something like this article is designed more for SEO placement & marketing than any meaningful discussion of those problems.

Also:

So short answer: No.

*What would you say are the best and worst parts about working as a newspaper reporter? Well, the newspaper reporter job is changing rapidly. When I started, there was a vestigial component that dealt with something called the “Information Superhighway” and now print journalists are being trained to code in HTML, be able to create and use SQL databases for research, be as effective with video and audio as you are with the written word and continue transitioning into an all-digital field. The older model of working in a newsroom with old coffee late into the night is quickly fading in favor of a reporter filing a story remotely from a meeting room or news event, pushing video / audio/ slideshows onto a website and being extremely reactive to breaking news. I think it’s more demanding now, but I also worry about whether in the transition that journalists might lose the opportunity for longer, more thoughtful/researched work. Investigative reporting comes to mind as a casualty of always-on reporting.


*When did you first realize you wanted to work in journalism? Can you remember a moment when it finally hit you that you wanted to write for a living?

Always liked it. Can’t say there was an ‘ah-ha’ moment.


*With the quote-unquote “decline of print journalism” upon us, are student journalists who work in the print medium – say, for their student newspaper – wasting their time?

No, not at all. The primary thing is watching how the field changes. It’s too simplistic to say print news is dying – much of the news content produced for the web originated from a print pub’s website. Now, are they financially solvent – that’s another issue. But for undergrad journalism students, be curious. Listen to how radio news assembles their stories, watch documentarians for similar tips on video. Learn to shoot well with still and video cameras. Learn how to record clean audio. Start your own podcast. Every edge you give yourself will help. And all of those new experiences will make you a better writer.

OK. It’s no secret that it’s tough to be a news reporter these days, but, personally, “studies” like these along with rants from nay-sayers and smug offhand comments about the “decline of newspapers,” are not enough to scare me away from doing the work that I do care so deeply about, and in which I’ve invested so much of my sweat and blood already.

You know what else is “bad,” objectively?

Staying up until 6 in the morning putting a newspaper together when I’ve got class in the morning is bad.

Being persona non grata with legions of students who disliked our coverage is bad.

Missing out on pick-up Frisbee sessions and birthday parties, and constantly skipping on seeing my favorite bands play in Boston because I have to make sure the paper comes out every week is bad.

Working full-time for a student publication for no pay is bad.

But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t absolutely love it – the rush of breaking news, the satisfaction of putting in the hard work for articles and editorials about important issues, the sense of accomplishment I feel every Friday when, come Hell or high water, The Gatepost comes out.

So far, my affair with journalism, “student” and otherwise, has been a love story. And when I graduate – despite the snarky determinations of outsiders who don’t know what it’s like to do what journalists do – I hope it goes on. I still dream of being a professional news reporter, and I’m willing to make sacrifices – financial, psychological and otherwise – to do it.

Worst job out there? No way.

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About spencerbuell

Editor-in-Chief, The Gatepost student newspaper at Framingham State University.
This entry was posted in Journalism wisdom from the pros and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Is newspaper reporter really the worst job out there?

  1. Pingback: Is newspaper reporter really the worst job out there? | The Stylebook of Self

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