The other week Forbes Magazine hurt my feelings. They said that being a newspaper reporter is the worst job in the world when you consider pay, benefits and working conditions. Lumberjacks, mail carriers and flight attendants were the careers that came closest to the bottom of the heap status where my chosen profession has landed.
I started my career as a reporter, and, as Mark Twain once wrote, years later I was demoted to being an editor. Still, after all this time I’m still a reporter at heart, still wish to be where the action is and to find things out first.
We all learned early on that we would never get rich as newspaper reporters, in fact one of my college professors said, “Kid, you’re never gonna get rich as a newspaper reporter.” My first job paid $75 a week and came during the Watergate era when people would have worked at any price just to be on a newspaper staff.
An older guy in the office remarked one day how he had been pals with a cop and a teacher and how in the beginning all three of them had lousy wages, but then the other two started making more money and he did not. He didn’t seem all that bitter, though, because he loved his work. A sports reporter I knew from back in the day said he would be at an exciting game on a beautiful evening and suddenly realize — “I’m getting paid for being here.”
Of course there were the newspaper owners who took advantage of people’s love for the profession and thus kept wages low, and they knew there was always a line of candidates for an opening, even if it was just writing obituaries or jotting down box scores. At least it was a foot in the door and you never knew when your break would come.
OK, bad pay, I’ll give you that; let’s move on to working conditions. For years I worked in an old building with walls painted institution green and flooring that wasn’t even close to being level. It had drafty windows and disgusting rest rooms. But it was in the heart of downtown and within quick walking distance to the courthouse, government offices, police station and board of education. Not only that, there was a good chance when running out for coffee that you’d see someone on the street with a hot news tip.
The paper later moved to the edge of town in a state-of-the-art building that was definitely more comfortable, but it was isolated in the middle of a business park surrounded by interstate highways. Inside, it was more like the hushed confines of a library. I gladly would have traded it for the run down building.
Over the years I’ve gathered a collection of movies based on the Fourth Estate, from “All the President’s Men,” to the “Front Page” and “His Girl Friday,” A film I watch when I’m longing for the good old days is “The Paper,” a fairly accurate depiction of when newsrooms were filled with characters — people who were competitive and loud and fought with each other but at the heart of it all were passionate about what they did for a living. I have a feeling too many newsrooms are filled these days with reporters who are quick to email a source rather than look him in the eye and have a conversation. Worse yet are editors who let them get away with it or who care only about filling pages whether it’s a good story or not.
I suppose newspapers have always been guilty of what Forbes has just pointed out —the bad pay and poor working conditions and benefits, but we were just having so much fun back then that it didn’t really matter.
— Nancy Luse writes from