Don't Let Your Sons (And Daughters) Grow Up To Be Newspaper Reporters
As best I can recall, it was supposed to be a quick cup of coffee. A young reporter was looking for the scoop on the area's power brokers and corruptocrats.
I was the cynical metro columnist who knew the place.
It had to be 10 years ago.
I figured I’d do most of the talking. Yet it was something she said that proved both prescient and unforgettable.
When I asked where she lived, the reporter said something like this:
"We rent an apartment. We really want to buy a house but we’re afraid to get a mortgage because we know we’ll be making less money every year.”
That got my attention.
I mean, how many educated professionals in their twenties EXPECT their standard of living to tumble year after year?
That wasn't the case when I was a 20-something newspaper reporter. Back then there were annual raises. If your byline file was fat so were the pay hikes. Oh, and there were Christmas bonuses. Pensions.
Shoot, we weren't just printing papers, we were printing money.
Salaries at most newspapers have been stagnant for years, even as the cost of living has crept up. That means the spending power of many newspaper reporters shrinks year after year. On top of that, they live under the constant threat of layoffs.
I couldn't help myself that day.
Get out of newspapers, I advised the youngster.
Unless you have a big fat trust fund, I thought to myself.
I recalled that conversation when I read a blog post yesterday headlined, "Death By Inches," by Jeri Rowe, a newspaperman who left the Greensboro News & Record a few years ago for academia.
The News & Record just had layoffs - rather, more layoffs - and Rowe reminisced about a trio of talented journalists who were departing.
“Now, any time I go into the newsroom, I spot all those empty cubicles,” Rowe wrote. “So, I don’t go in much. Can’t. The News & Record – a place where I worked for nearly a quarter century – is dying.
“I hate it.”
Me too. I cringe at what has happened to newspapers. I can remember when newsrooms were noisy, crowded, crazy places to work. They were populated with crusty editors, eccentric characters and poorly dressed wordsmiths who could write like angels.
Each week brings more bad news. Last week's horror was The Denver Post, which announced that 30 newsroom employees were getting the ax.
Now there are tumbleweeds blowing down the quiet aisles of newsrooms. The reporters are smart - smarter maybe than we were - stretched thin and stressed out. Worse, they'll never know what it was like to really work a beat and only blow into the newsroom long enough to pound out a story before heading back to the street.
And sadly, what was once an exciting and profitable career for smart, wickedly good writers now offers an uncertain future and anemic salaries. In most places, anyway.
Why am I telling you this? Perhaps you have a high school senior who’s ready to head off to college.
If your kid is considering a career in journalism you need to talk him or her out of it. Unless there's a trust fund, that is.
Don't take my word for it. According to a piece last year in The Hill, the annual ranking of jobs pronounced newspaper reporting the least-desirable in America.
"The research found that the worst job on the list, newspaper reporter, has a median salary of $37,820 and an expected job growth rate of minus 8 percent."
Minus 8 percent.
The worst job in America.
Worst than logging and pest control workers.
Still, there's a romantic allure to journalism. And yes, it really is a calling. Or it was. A profession with a rich, honorable history, dedicated to telling the truth.
Sadly, those lofty ideals won't feed a family or pay the mortgage. We all work for money and there isn't much of it in newspapers these days.
So tell your kids what I tell teens when they say they want to be a newspaper reporter: Find something else to do.
I hear Terminex is hiring.