There’s journalism and there’s paying journalism

When I started as a reporter in 1976, I worked nights and weekends. I covered meetings and cops. I took photos that would make our photographer cringe. I worked 50-hour weeks, got yelled at a lot until I got better and tried to learn as much as I could. I wasn’t special; if you wanted to be any good, that’s what you did.

I got paid $100 a week. Using an inflation calculator, that’s $402.64 in 2012 dollars. Not much, but I didn’t care. I was happy. I have the feeling that starting reporters with small papers don’t get paid much more than that these days.

I thought of that when I got whip-sawed by this article in CJR about optimism in journalism and this one at Poynter about the joylessness among political reporters.

Journalism isn’t in any danger, although paying journalism could be. Journalism is getting better as more people create content through blogging, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Fact-checking comes almost instantaneously, rather than 24 hours after publication as it was 20 years ago. More people are being reached with news through the web than newspapers or TV ever reached. People are talking about the news, usually through social networks. Journalism is abuzz with all the new voices, new technologies and new developments. It’s getting easier to tell where people are coming from.

But you’re not going to get rich doing it. Paying jobs are more scarce, but they are out there. You may well have to practice your craft in small-town America, and that’s not the bad thing that many think it is. I got the attention I needed. I got to cover any and everything. And I got to understand the town where I worked. So, for people starting out, here’s my advice: Go to where the job is, not to the city where you want to live. You may not want to support a family on your reporter’s salary, but, if you’re young and single, it is where you can learn the skills to make it a decent-paying career.

2 thoughts on “There’s journalism and there’s paying journalism

  1. If you’re a political reporter and you’re looking for the joy of a story at a POLITICAL CONVENTION, then, as the kids on the Intertoobz say, ur not doin it rite.

    Not having fun covering the convention? Well, here’s an idea. Therezabout 5,000 reporters there, so why don’t you go cover SOMETHING ELSE?

  2. I could seriously damage my top vertebrae if I nodded my head in agreement as vigorously as I want to with this post. I’ve learned a lot more about the principles of journalism in six months at a three-day-a-week paper than almost 25 years in daily journalism, assuming I knew what I was doing.

    It ain’t always pretty what we do — we rely on a LOT of community contributions and we feature lots of dogs on our front pages (five issues in a row and going strong!) — but by God it’s fun and it’s successful. We don’t make a ton of money at it, and we’re not doing Pulitzer-grade work, but then I didn’t accomplish either of those two things in the past 25 years. But we know the people here, they know us and we fill no less than 32 pages every issue with all local news. It’s a great way to travel through this career.

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