Sunday, April 28, 2013

You'd rather be an actuary? Really?

It's getting a little infuriating. In the same week that some number crunchers (garbage in, garbage out, remember) determined that "newspaper reporter" is the worst job in American, Conan O'Brien used his bully pulpit at the White House Correspondents Dinner to give last rites to print journalism.

That really just pisses me off.

An organization called Career Cast.com has announced that of all the jobs in America - garbage collector, ditch digger, farm hand, whatever -- the very worst is newspaper reporter. It determined that America's best job is actuary. Really? 

Here's the deal: Evaluating the relative "goodness" of a job involves a lot more than weighing its job security, lack of stress and income. How many movies are made about actuaries?

To a point, I understand how a data-driven survey could arrive at such a conclusion. Newspaper reporters are embarrassingly underpaid, particularly considering the high level of skill and commitment required to do the job. They often write things that aren't particularly popular, if they're doing their job.

It's high stress, nonstop work that has absolutely no room for error. Yet, it's the best job I ever had.

For several precious years, I was a newspaper reporter. I loved every minute of it -- the challenge to produce one, two, sometimes three or four stories a day. The opportunity to meet and sometimes challenge important people like governors, senators, business leaders and otherwise interesting and influential people. It was heady stuff for a kid just out of college.

Unfortunately, with a growing family I needed to make more money and soon began to climb the career ladder -- city editor, business editor, managing editor, publisher. These are great jobs, too, but my favorite job will always be reporter.

Reporters are almost invariably interesting people. They are well-read, diverse, smart, inquisitive people who get a kick out of asking impertinent questions and prying information out of reluctant sources. It requires a unique set of skills that makes for a good reporter, though each one goes at the job a little differently. They are fun to be around, even though - or perhaps because -- they love to challenge authority, including their own bosses.

So, it smarts a little to read that some group has concluded that newspaper reporter is America's worst job. The analysis clearly doesn't include a lot of intangibles, like the satisfaction felt for important work well done.

Newspaper reporters have never been well paid. I made something like $11,000 my first year on the job in 1983, and I had a small and growing family. Adjusted for inflation, the pay is no better today at entry level, and we need to do better. That's my commitment -- to improve the pay for everyone at the Post Register as the economy improves and we continue to make the inevitable transition into the digital environment.

Meanwhile, though, allow me to tip my hat to newspaper reporters working at all five Post Company publications -- the Post Register, the Jefferson Star, the Shelley Pioneer, the Challis Messenger and Intermountain Farm & Ranch. They're some of the best, most interesting, most committed people you'll ever meet, and I guarantee you that they don't think they have America's worst job.

I'll also guarantee you they'd all like a raise and maybe a new computer.

Originally published in the Sunday, April 28, 2013 edition of the Post Register.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Everything all the time fails us again

You just had to know it couldn't last.

After a relatively responsible performance by the national "mainstream" media in the first 48 hours following the Boston Marathon bombings, it all came quickly unraveled on Wednesday when CNN, followed by a half-dozen other major outlets, breathlessly (John King was quite literally gasping for breath) announced that an arrest had been made. This, he said, had been confirmed by two sources.

Both of which, it turns out, were wrong. Within minutes, CNN, Fox, the Boston Globe -- even the generally steady and cautious Associated Press -- had to backtrack their reports of an arrest. In their rush to get it first, they forgot Rule No. 1: Get it right.

What is one to say? Journalists aren't perfect? Despite the best intentions, mistakes happen? Oops?

Here's a better approach -- stop patronizing media organizations that place a higher priority on anything other than accuracy. Stop believing everything you see on Facebook or Twitter (and, for heaven's sake, stop forwarding it down the line). But we don't do that. We are addicted to everything, all the time. It's not a trivial matter. It's serious.

King is not a sloppy journalist. He began his career with the Associated Press, where he won the wire service's top award for his work covering the war in Kuwait. I had the great pleasure of spending some time with King at CNN's headquarters one evening some years ago, and he came across as serious and thoughtful.

And yet, the pressure of being first got the best of him. While others followed King down the wrong fork in the road, some did not, including NBC, which was the first outlet to report that, in fact, no arrest had been made. That's not just luck -- somewhere, someone inside NBC decided that it didn't have sufficient confirmation of an arrest, even while nearly all its competitors were saying it had happened.

That's journalism.