Michael's Essay: Print Journalism called worst job of 2013

A newsie delivering papers downtown in St. Louis, MO, during they hay-days of print journalism.

A newsie delivering papers downtown in St. Louis, MO, during they hay-days of print journalism.


The very worst job I ever had was selling magazines door-to-door. Which is why I have a soft spot for door-to-door people - except when they ring at supper time.

Which is always.
Going door-to-door is not quite like sitting in the subway with an empty Tim's cup begging for change.
But it's close.
There are variations on the magazine dodge that are even worse. I have a friend who spent a summer selling light bulbs door to door.
Happily I was tempted away from magazine selling as a career and got a job at a race track where you met honest people and heathens. And then into newspapers.
Over the course of an absurdly long career, I worked as a reporter on four newspapers. To me it was the greatest job ever invented.
You can imagine my shock, nay horror, to discover this week that being a newspaper reporter is the worst job in the world.
According  to the annual ranking of jobs by the website CareerCast, the print journalist ranked 200th out of 200 occupations surveyed. 
The list was created in 1988.  The idea behind it was to expose certain occupations as desirable career choices for students. The number one best job, according to the 2013 survey, is actuary.
Which is interesting in a crazy coincidence sort of way. After a few years in journalism, strangers at dinner parties would ask what I did for a living. When I said reporter, they would engage in a slanging exercise about how awful journalists were.
I got so tired of it that subsequently when I was asked what I did, I said "actuary." The questioner would say something like "That's nice" and walk away. I have no idea what an actuary actually does.
Except they are paid more than print reporters, more than twice as much in fact.
Few industries have had to adjust so radically and painfully to the new world of work as the newspaper business.
Craig's List and other sites have effectively killed classified adverting. Display advertising is way down.
Every print organization in the world has been downsizing. Foreign bureaus have been closed because they are too expensive. Newsweek Magazine last year was sold for a dollar. The Detroit News has scaled back its home delivery to three days a week.
On Thursday the Vancouver Sun and The Province announced impending layoffs to achieve "dramatic staff reductions."
The Globe and Mail and The National Post have also announced staff reductions.
The decline of print was not unexpected; in fact with the explosion of information sources, it was almost inevitable.  Audiences were no longer content to read their morning paper over breakfast and pick up the evening paper on the way home.
A couple of papers I worked for had as many as five editions, so people could keep up with stock market reports and race results during the day.

With his usual insight, New York Magazine's Frank Rich recently pointed out: "The digital revolution has undermined the very notion of omniscient news organizations" .
He goes on to decry the practice of older journalists of - ahem - sentimentalizing about the past, a practice I'm not unfamiliar with...
I never thought of newspaper reporting as work. There was always something new, always something to get the blood moving. I certainly would never have thought of newspapering as the worst job in the world.
But Rich is right. The oldsters (we're politely called veterans) spend far too much time reminiscing about the halcyon days. The young people coming into the business, a lot of them much smarter than we ever were, must get awfully tired of it.

And for the future? Rich quotes a Washington Post journalist who says the business is in for a long period of reinvention.

"Everything will have to be reduced to rubble and built back up again. And almost no one now in journalism will see the end of it."

And the final warning: "Reinvention is a painful thing to watch."

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