Sunday, April 28, 2013

On the Bottom LookingUp

Three guys get killed in a boat accident and they go before St. Peter. The first man says he was a surgeon. "How much did you make a year?" Peter asks. The man replies, "I made $375,000." "Enter," says Peter, who now turns to the second man with the same question. "I made $153,000 - I was an architect." "Interesting," says Peter, "enter." Now he turns to the last man. "How much did you make per year?" The man responds, "I made $16,500." Peter turns to him and says, "$16,500, eh? What paper did you work for?" - A fable based on fact

My first job in journalism paid $45 a week. I was a wire room attendant at a San Francisco newspaper and it was my job to keep a dozen clattering teletype machines running smoothly.

That entailed changing the paper rolls on the fly, clipping myriad stories and distributing them to the correct desk and listening to the tell-tale bells that would indicate a news bulletin. And, oh yeah, the hours were to 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

I lived in a dump with a couple of other guys and we scrimped and saved to make sure we had enough beer money, even if it meant living on Corn Flakes.

When I moved up a notch to be a real life news hound, I got to spend my time at mind-numbing city council meetings or, as I did at one paper, interview the loved ones of soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Things slowly got better as my career progressed. I finally earned enough to buy a house, send the kids to college and keep my wife reasonably well dressed. But if wealth is what I sought, I was in the wrong profession.

We ink-stained wretches justify this by claiming we are motivated by compassion and concern, not cash, although each and every one of us would prefer our paycheck to match our passion. After all, even a seeker after truth has got to eat.

Then there is the fact that nobody likes us very much. While there are two sides to every story, most newsmakers want us to print only their views or at the very least disparage the other side. As a result, we are roundly criticized by liberals and conservatives, Arabs and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Bruins and Trojans, you name it.

To sum it up: If you're seeking love or money, apply elsewhere.

Sound like a lousy job? I never thought so but apparently I was mistaken.

According to the website, a newspaper reporter is considered the worst job of 2013. The website ranked the top 200 best and worst jobs in the United States, taking into consideration factors including physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

Reporters were on the bottom of the heap looking up at lumberjacks, soldiers, actors, oil rig workers, dairy farmers, meter readers, roofers and flight attendants, all of which were found to be in preferable professions.

Based on this, I would have been better off chopping down trees or compiling someone's gas bill. But with all due respect to these fine professions, I never had the urge to live in the woods with a bunch of guys in Pendleton shirts while sleeping with my axe. Meter reading may require math, so that's out.

I did the soldier bit. It required complete allegiance to authority and a willingness to die. Cows? I prefer the final product, two scoops of vanilla topped with hot fudge sauce.

But let's get serious. What is missing in this equation is fulfillment. How else can you explain that in the CareerCast survey a podiatrist is listed ahead of a psychiatrist, a skin care specialist is ranked ahead of a surgeon, a bricklayer beats out a judge, a sewage plant operator tops a principal.

Milking a cow or patching a roof may hold untold intellectual pleasures. But I'm not sure it matches the satisfaction of exposing corruption in government, advocating for the downtrodden or exposing rip-offs, cons and frauds.

I suspect the reporting profession was thrown under the bus because the newspaper business is considered a buggy whip industry.

To some extent that's true. Total employment in newspaper publishing has dropped by more than 40 percent in the last decade . In 2001, the industry employed 414,000 people, but that number fell to 246,020 people by 2011.

But last year, revenues declined just 2 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. That may not be a reason to pop the champagne corks, but it suggests that the hemorrhaging has slowed and there's life in the old girl yet.

Which is good news for reporters who were thinking of making a career move to an oil rig.

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