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.

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