There were a couple of interesting developments this past week for those who prefer their news reported and written by skilled professionals.
First, there’s a new paper in town, the Los Angeles Register. It's been a very long time since anybody cranked up the presses at a new newspaper in this town. So we welcome it.
But the reality is that its appearance is either insane or ingenious.
Insane, because at a time when print news publications are becoming as commonplace as the woolly mammoth, Aaron Kushner, the Register’s publisher, is betting that the future is bright. His plan involves lots of local news, conservative columnists and a paywall among other initiatives
He hit the ground running several years ago in Orange County, home to the parent Register paper, hiring 100 journalists, creating two dozen new sections, upgrading the weeklies he owned, and began publishing a new daily. In November, he bought the Press-Enterprise of Riverside for about $27 million.
This against the background of a profession that saw 17,000 reporters and editors laid off between 2006-2012, according to the Pew Research Journalism Project.
Since Kushner’s splashy arrival, however, 35 people have been laid off in Orange County and 39 at the Press Enterprise. Most of the 50 journalists staffing the Los Angeles operation are migrating from Orange County.
Ingenious, because the Los Angeles Times and other papers in Southern California could be up for sale in the not too distant future. Kushner could be in a position to buy them all.
If he does, it will remain to be seen if he ends up possessing a bigger white elephant than he owns now or if he has been right while everyone else has been wrong. For the sake of a noble profession, we wish him well.
In the meantime, enjoy the ride. Competition results in great journalism.
There is another reason to celebrate
Every year, an organization called CareerCast ranks jobs, from first to worst, based on a number of metrics.
Last year, the job of Newspaper Reporter was ranked dead last. Number 200 on a list of 200.
Yes, almost any profession you can think of from Bartenders (No. 112) to Dishwashers (No. 124) to Sewage Plant Operators (No. 141) was deemed to be more alluring and less stressful.
This year, however, reporters have leapt to Number 199, leaving Lumberjacks in the wake even though we depend on them for our finished product.
And who ranks at the top of the list? Why, bean counters and number crunchers. Not surprising in a country that manufactures more bureaucracies and paper shufflers than hard goods.
The Number One ranking goes to Mathematicians, closely followed by Statisticians and Actuaries. The lesson here, I guess, is that if you have a good head for figures, don’t waste your talent on reporting vote tallies or box scores.
Others making the top 10 per cent: University Professors (good pay, little stress) at No. 2. Audiologist at No. 5. Computer Systems Analyst (No. 8), Speech Pathologist (No. 10), Human Resources Manager (No. 13) and Petroleum Engineer (No. 20).
Not faring so well: Meter Reader (No. 183), Disc Jockey (No. 188), Garbage Collector (No. 193), Flight Attendant (No. 194), Taxi Driver (No. 197) and Enlisted Military Personnel (No. 198).
But back to reporting. It can be exasperating, fulfilling, joyous or heart-wrenching. One of the first reporting jobs I had required calling the grieving families of Vietnam War dead. It was enough to make me consider door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales.
But being a reporter can also be adventurous, romantic, exciting.
So why the bad rap?
According to Tony Lee, CareerCast publisher, while Newspaper Reporter has dropped down the ranks through the years, it’s been in the bottom half since the list’s inception some 25 years ago.
“There are reasons why newspaper reporter is at the bottom,” Lee told Caitlin Johnston of poynter.org. “Some of them are reasons that really haven’t changed in 25 years and some of them are new phenomena.”
Pay: “It’s never paid terribly well compared to lots of other jobs.”
Stress: “It’s always been a relatively high-stress job. You’re working under deadline, which immediately makes it more stressful. You’re essentially in the public eye because others can read your work and take issue with what you write.”
Hours: “You’re essentially in demand all the time. Clearly there are times when you’re off, but if something happens on your beat or you’re in a small town, you need to drop what you’re doing and go to work.”
I visited this CareerCast data several years ago and I believe now what I wrote then: What is missing in this equation is fulfillment. How else can you explain how an Appliance Repairer beats out an Aerospace Engineer; a Skin Care Specialist is listed ahead of a Surgeon; a Typist is ranked ahead of a Judge.
There may be untold intellectual delights in washing dishes or making martinis, but all things considered I’d rather be writing.