Back at school, extolling the virtues of journalism
Last week, careercast.com ranked newspaper reporter as the worst job for the third year in a row. Tuesday, I had a chance to tell students at my high school alma mater why that’s just not true.
My booth at the Roaring Fork Young Professionals’ second annual career fair at Roaring Fork High School wasn’t as flashy as Colorado Mountain College’s corner or the Federal Aviation Administration’s map-covered display. I didn’t have candy or a potential summer job to entice kids to my table. I seem to recall that the newspaper booth I visited at a middle school career fair was equally spare, and probably manned by my current colleague John Stroud.
In any case, I didn’t attract a lot of casual browsers. That’s not really surprising, since some of the metrics that hurt our ranking — income, environment, outlook and stress — often are among the first thing things we look at when choosing a career. Still, it’s far from the complete story, and those students who did stop helped illustrate that.
First, let’s dispel the myth that print is dead. At least in the Roaring Fork Valley, demand for newspapers remains high. Several of the students I spoke with expressed a strong preference for the print edition as opposed to reading stories online. One particularly insightful girl cited a sense of immutability in the printed word — a sort of completeness that the constant updating of the web can’t rival. Another picks up the PI while waiting for a slice at Peppino’s — precisely how I got my news as a kid. A third liked it because it’s the easiest place to get the Sudoku.
Regardless, I’ve learned that I have to get up early to get a copy of my own article from any rack in Carbondale. There may not be as many of us as there once were, but community journalism is alive and well. Big operations face competition from the Internet, but I haven’t seen many bloggers sitting through a town council meeting every week or interviewing high schoolers about their spring musical.
In fact, most of the news people get online these days comes from “old” media in the first place. I recently encountered one of those Facebook posts with a screaming “Mainstream media silent as …” headline. Clicking through, I found a series of embedded tweets — from Seattle Times and Washington Post reporters.
Apparently, some kids realize that someone has to do the interviews and research and write the story regardless of the platform, because those who did stop to talk about journalism didn’t seem discouraged. Indeed, most who expressed interest seemed to regard it as a much more reliable way of making a living off writing than attempting the Great American Novel. The girl who winced when I mentioned deadlines might opt for a weekly or even a magazine, while the boy who took a step closer when I talked about being first on the scene of a fire might end up at a metro daily. The common theme for a lot of my fellow reporters when I pry into their career choice is love of writing.
It is not, however, why I do it.
When I got my first look inside the current high school as a junior, the school newspaper was on hiatus, and I had little inclination toward what I suppose amounts to the family business. When the Roaring Fork Rampage was resurrected in the newly christened building, my exposure to layout and design made me the de facto editor, but I still entered college fully expecting to be a scientist. When I finally got around to declaring a major, it was the hard science aspect of anthropology that most attracted me.
There’s something about journalism that keeps even the most curmudgeonly old beat reporter coming back, and I’ve caught it. I can’t say what it is for our ad salespeople, page designers, photographers or even my fellow reporters, but for me, it’s twofold.
First, there’s the ability to satisfy almost any curiosity that might occur to me. If I wonder how many Alpine Bank pens are out there or what’s outside of the regular Glenwood Caverns tour, others probably do as well, and I can find out. Journalists are privy to the inside workings of many things, and it’s incredibly addicting. It also means that no two days are the same.
Perhaps more significantly, there’s the satisfaction. I once spent a few months working as a dishwasher at the Red Rock Diner. Thanks to a terrific owner and staff, the experience was surprisingly pleasant, but it’s not the kind of gig that leaves you with anything to put in a scrapbook. Other positions are essential and no doubt gratifying, but completely overlooked by society at large. A sense of contribution and appreciation is invaluable and completely unquantifiable. Reporters get both, though sometimes the responsibility weighs heavily, and sometimes the readers aren’t very kind.
Sitting in the same room where I graduated not so very long ago, talking to students who share many of the same mentors, I had to wonder whether I’d have the same advice for my younger self. I have watched my friends and classmates become scientists who spend their days in an East Coast lab, or teachers who put in 60-hour weeks for less than a living wage or department store managers whose steady paycheck makes up for the steady grind.
If I had it all to do again, I wouldn’t trade places with any of them.
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