• City Room: Adapting to define a role
    April 26,2013

    Lists are a really good thing. I have one going all of the time, either at work or home. Usually, they serve as reminders of what needs to be done; sometimes they are a measure of how far I’ve come. They keep me focused and on task. In a job where dozens of decisions have to be made before that day’s deadline, lists are essential.

    This week, CareerCast.com released a list that drew a lot of attention by the media — and not necessarily because of its news value but rather what that list said about the newspaper industry. The online-based jobs monitoring website ranked 200 U.S. jobs in order from most to least desirable based on factors like environment, income, outcome and stress.

    The best job went to an actuary (someone who interprets statistics to determine probabilities of accidents, sickness and death, and loss of property from theft and natural disasters). The worst job for 2013 went to newspaper reporter.

    It did not take long for my journalism friends on social media (and here in the real world) to jump on the bandwagon. In fact, a few friends who are considered big-name journalists with “big-time” awards at national dailies threw out their 2 cents about the pay, stress, hours, demands and perceived state of our newspaper industry.

    It was a hard thing to watch unfold.

    One article posted by a fellow journalist went so far as to summarize: “Ever-shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets and competition from Internet businesses have created very difficult conditions for newspaper reporters.”

    Sure, consumers can access online news outlets almost anywhere thanks to technological advancements, which have taken a bite out of newspapers’ markets. And the number of reporter jobs is projected to fall 6 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while average pay is expected to continue its decline. But hasn’t technology streamlined (and made more efficient) nearly every job in America?

    Another online article was quoted as saying, “The Newspaper Association of America, via the Pew Research Center, estimates that the industry earned approximately $49.2 billion in 2006. By 2011, that total had dropped by well over half to $23.9 billion taking many jobs with it, including thousands of newspaper reporter positions.

    “Editor & Publisher reports a steady decline in the number of daily newspapers since 1985, when there were 1,730 in circulation. The industry held steady near 1,450 in the mid-2000s, but closures in the latter half of the decade left the nation with a low of 1,382 dailies.

    “Some prominent dailies migrated to online models, such as, The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News, which publishes twice weekly. The New Orleans Times-Picayune transitioned to a three-times-weekly newspaper in 2012. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer became online-exclusive in 2009.”

    All valid facts.

    But journalism is not a dying art, nor is reporting a profession without prospects. Rethinking the industry has made reporters (and editors) adapt. In fact, we need newspaper reporters today more than ever. So, I argue we let the naysayers have their day. Newspapers have been around for 400 years and are not going anywhere anytime soon. Their continued success comes from one factor, and one factor alone: local content.

    Newspaper reporters have watched their industry evolve, and they have adapted with it, learning new ways — online and through social media — to get their local coverage out to all sectors of the public. While the delivery methods have changed (mobile phones, tablets, websites), newspaper reporters are working tirelessly not to stray from their core missions to be a watchdog and preserving the public trust.

    Reporters are on the front lines monitoring open government, pointing out discrepancies, telling us all we need to know to make educated decisions. They are defenders of free speech and freedom of the press; they are the eyes and ears of the public. They are stewards for history. They research and dig. They find scandals and track missteps. They are defenders of the weak and underprivileged. They monitor trends and chronicle key moments in time.

    Reporters are snoops. They are squeaky wheels, especially when it comes to upholding the public’s right to know. They are paid pains in the butt.

    Reporters entertain us, surprise us and, on occasion, move us to tears by telling us the stories that make up the very fabric of our communities.

    Most importantly, unlike bloggers and aggregators of information found around the Internet, newspaper reporters attach credibility and accountability to information, elevating it to vetted news rather than conjecture or rumor.

    Does that come with a lot of pressure? Of course. Most journalists understand they have a higher purpose than making money, maintaining a 9-to-5 job, and having a dull, uneventful desk job. They also know if they make a mistake that everyone will see it, and yet they will put themselves out there every day to serve their community and its interests. They are professional punching bags, especially when readers don’t like the message being delivered. Journalists are judged daily.

    All evidence to the contrary, newspaper reporters have one of the best jobs, even if it’s not glamorous. (Not sure an actuary is glamorous, either.) Reporters get answers and produce results every day. They love the rush of breaking news, no matter how insignificant it starts out to be. They are inherently curious people, and are constantly challenging themselves to do more, to find better stories to share. Every day, they meet people and learn new things. And they can, by virtue of simply working hard, make a huge difference in their community. Plus, they love to write, which many people do not.

    Reporters’ content is what you have come to depend on every day. Their role is so important, actually, it is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and most journalists will tell you they do their jobs with great pride knowing that.

    While the list of things journalists need to do to continue expanding coverage and becoming even more indispensable to the communities they serve is long, I feel confident that with each black line through each task, we are guaranteeing our continued success and our rightful place in documenting local news. It’s a job we do well despite what the surveys think.

    Steven Pappas is editor of The Times Argus, a family-owned newspaper in central Vermont that has proudly served its readers in one form or another for nearly 200 years.

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