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.
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.